Swann dismisses claims he was overruled on Covid restrictions

The health minister says claims he was over-ruled during last week's Executive meeting on coronavirus regulations in Northern Ireland are "bogus and ill-founded".

Robin Swann said proposals he brought forward were "fully supported and endorsed" by ministers.

"I've never been one to divulge what is being discussed in an Executive meeting," Mr Swann told UTV.

"But what I will say in regards to the bogus and ill-founded claims that were reported in the media this morning, I don't want to go any farther - but I can assure you the proposal I've brought forward as health minister to the Executive have been fully supported and endorsed by the First Minister, deputy First Minister and their parties."

It comes after DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his party leader, First Minister Arlene Foster, had reined in health department "technocrats" who wanted to take more severe measures.

On Thursday, ministers resolved to impose localised limitations on people socialising in Belfast, Ballymena and other areas with high infection rates.

A further 109 positive tests for Covid-19 have been confirmed by the Health Department.

Mr Swann said: "In light to what is being alleged this morning, I am not going to breach the confidentiality of Executive discussions to comment on ill-informed and bogus claims.

"Our public health messaging is too important to play games with."

Mr Wilson alleged that Mr Swann and others had pressed for more extensive restrictions during Thursday's Executive meeting.

The East Antrim MP told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme: "If the technocrats in the Department of Health and if some of the ministers in the Executive had had their way these restrictions would be far more severe and many businesses would be experiencing far, far greater difficulties as a result of them."

Sammy Wilson alleged that the Health Minister and others had pressed for more extensive restrictions. Credit: Liam McBurney / PA Archive / PA Images

The DUP's chief whip at Westminster added: "Other ministers wanted far, far more widespread restrictions and those were opposed by our party, and quite rightly so."

UUP Leader Steve Aiken called the claims "utter nonsense".

He added: "This is too serious a situation to have MPs playing games caused by internal squabbles or lurking resentment over thwarted leadership ambitions."

Limits on social interaction between households amid soaring Covid-19 infection rates in the Belfast council area were agreed last week.

People living in Ballymena town and postcode areas BT43, BT28 and BT29 have also been given guidance discouraging non-essential journeys outside the affected zones.

There will also be new legally enforceable social restrictions - residents in these areas cannot visit other households.

There are a number of limited exceptions, including childcare provision and households that have formed a social bubble with another.

No more than six people, from no more than two households, are allowed to meet in private gardens.