Stormont Health Minister sues Sir Van Morrison over ‘very dangerous’ criticism

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Northern Ireland’s Health Minister is suing Sir Van Morrison after the singer branded him “very dangerous” over his handling of Covid-19 restrictions.

The legal action focuses on a high-profile incident at the Europa Hotel in Belfast in the summer when Sir Van, a vocal lockdown critic, took to stage and criticised Robin Swann.

The defamation proceedings also cite two subsequent incidents when the singer elaborated on his views on Mr Swann.

In the first, when he was challenged by a Sunday Life reporter about his initial comments, Sir Van was reported to have described the minister as a “fraud”.

Robin Swann on vaccine passports
Robin Swann was described as a ‘fraud’ by Sir Van Morrison (Liam McBurney/PA)

The second relates to content the songwriter uploaded on YouTube in which he addressed the Europa Hotel controversy. In that video, he again criticises the minister and calls him “dangerous”, albeit he refers to him incorrectly as “Robert Swann”.

Mr Swann is being represented in the action by renowned libel lawyer Paul Tweed.

“Proceedings are at an advanced stage with an anticipated hearing date early in 2022,” he said.

The development was first reported by the Sunday Life on Sunday.

It is understood Mr Swann’s legal team sent a writ to the singer in June and followed that up with a detailed statement of claim in September.

It is understood Sir Van’s lawyers responded to the claim last month.

The Europa Hotel incident in June unfolded when a concert Sir Van was supposed to perform at was cancelled at late notice due to Covid-19 restrictions.

At one point while criticising Mr Swann on stage, Sir Van called up DUP MP Ian Paisley from the audience to join him. Mr Paisley joined in with the singer in chanting that the Stormont minister was “very dangerous”.

Video footage of the episode went viral.

Mr Swann said Mr Paisley subsequently apologised for the incident. It is understood the Health Minister is not taking legal action against the North Antrim MP.

Democratic Unionist Party meet to ratify new leader
Ian Paisley was involved in the incident at the Europa Hotel (PA)

The Belfast-born singer has been an ardent critic of coronavirus restrictions, particularly those that prevented live music performances.

He recorded a number of anti-lockdown songs last year that he said were aimed at the UK Government.

The lyrics included claims that scientists were “making up crooked facts” to justify restrictions that “enslave” the population.

Mr Swann subsequently responded to those songs in a piece written for Rolling Stone Magazine.

In that op-ed, the Health Minister described the singer’s claims as “bizarre and irresponsible”.

He said some of what he was claiming was “actually dangerous” and would provide “great comfort to the conspiracy theorists”.

Sir Van’s solicitor Joe Rice confirmed that the singer will defend the proceedings issued by Mr Swann

“Mr Morrison regrets that Mr Swann considered it necessary to issue proceedings,” said Mr Rice.

“He is disappointed by the publicity that surrounds the issue of the proceedings also. Mr Morrison has consistently campaigned for the relaxation of the coronavirus regulations, believing them to be unlawful insofar as they imposed a blanket ban on the ability of all musicians to perform live music, thereby endangering their livelihoods.

“Such was his strength of feeling on this matter that he instructed this firm in June 2021 to issue a High Court challenge to the legality of those regulations, arguing that they were unlawful. It was only after he brought those proceedings that the regulations were relaxed by the Assembly, thereby preventing the need for a determination of the issue by the High Court.

“This firm can confirm that a defence has been served on behalf of Mr Morrison to the proceedings brought by Mr Swann.

“Mr Morrison asserts within that defence that the words used by him related to a matter of public interest and constituted fair comment.”

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