Editorial: Executive division on vaccine passports is unfortunate

Trying to return to some form of normality after eighteen months of lockdown and other restrictions was always going to be a process that needed to be managed carefully and with public health given paramount importance.

The pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on many of us but the spike caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant shows that we cannot be complacent, even with the availability of vaccines.

The Stormont Executive has the unenviable task of navigating a way out of the restrictions, allowing the economy to recover whilst ensuring that the health service is not overwhelmed.

It is a tricky balancing act which it has not always got right.

And while we are regularly told that the health and scientific advice is driving decisions, the five-party executive is clearly not always unified in its approach.

Those divisions have been all too apparent in recent days over the issue of vaccination certificates for entry to hospitality and entertainment venues.

On Monday, ministers agreed to end the one metre social distancing requirement in shops, theatres, cinemas and some other indoor settings.

However, the executive decided that mitigation measures including proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test for indoor seated venues would be advisory only.

At the meeting, the SDLP's Nichola Mallon, supported by Alliance's Naomi Long, had proposed compulsory introduction of vaccine passports but the proposal was voted down by the other ministers, including Robin Swann.

Yesterday, the health minister expressed his frustration at the situation around vaccine certification.

He said he did not back the proposal on mandatory passports because such a scheme was "neither agreed nor ready".

The minister said it was "regrettable" that the executive has yet to agree a policy position on the passports, suggesting some ministers had 'ideological objections'. It also emerged that he asked the Executive Office five months ago to create a working group on the issue.

Mr Swann has made it clear he wants a certification scheme to be in place and ready to go, for use 'as soon as necessary'.

It is deeply unfortunate that this matter has become a source of division within the executive and sends out the wrong message.

We have seen how passports have worked to good effect elsewhere and it is essential this tool is readily available as an option as we try to get safely back to normal life.