Swann: Domestic vaccine certification scheme 'as soon as necessary'

Health Minister Robin Swann wants a domestic vaccine certification scheme in place in Northern Ireland "as soon as necessary".

On Monday, Stormont ministers agreed a plan to drop the one metre social distancing requirement across a range of venues, but decided that plans to require vaccination passports for entry to the indoor seated venues would be advisory only.

At the meeting, SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon proposed Covid vaccine passports for those venues be introduced by regulation but was blocked in the Executive vote.

The health minister said he did not back the proposal because the scheme was "neither agreed nor ready".

"If we can get a domestic scheme agreed - with the necessary regulations and technology in place - it gives us both options and opportunities, new tools to use if required.

"It also means our citizens won't be disadvantaged when they travel to jurisdictions where certification is mandatory - be that going for a drink in Donegal or a football match in Scotland.

"There will still be decisions to make on if or when or where vaccine certification would be mandatory in Northern Ireland. We could decide to bring it in straight away for certain sectors. Or we could keep it as an option to deploy if the Covid situation worsens again, or if there is non-compliance in key areas. "But we need to get it prepared first. Again it's regrettable that a decision hasn't been taken to date. In the meantime I would ask people not to be distracted by the pragmatic decision taken last night regarding indoor seated entertainment venues.

"With furlough ending, I believe it was not practical or fair to ask that sector to wait weeks while the technology and regulations for a domestic scheme were put in place.

Colum Eastwood says not having vaccine passports is "reckless"

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said opposition to the introduction of vaccination passports was "astounding and reckless". He said: "This is a moment for political leadership. The warnings from senior health service professionals could not be starker.

"Unless rates of transmission fall, we are looking at a bleak winter scenario that will push health workers beyond their limits and see some emergency services collapse."

Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy has accused other parties of playing politics as he expressed regret the Executive was unable to reach consensus on the issue of vaccine passport.

At Monday night's meeting, the SDLP voted against a move to issue guidance to indoor seated venues on the use of vaccine certification, rather than making it a mandatory requirement in regulations. The Alliance Party abstained while all other ministers backed the move to use guidance rather than regulation.

Mr Murphy insisted his party had no ideological issue with using vaccine certification as a requirement of entry into certain venues.

Conor Murphy has defended Health Minister Robin Swann

He said, though, more work was still needed to get a system ready to be rolled out in Northern Ireland if it was needed.

He told a Stormont press conference that ministers at the Executive should strive for consensus.

"One of the key issues is unanimity in the coherence of the public message and making sure the public understand what we're continuing to ask them to do, and I'm sorry and regret that that was not possible coming out of the Executive last night," he said.

"We shouldn't have an issue where the health minister (Robin Swann) feels he has to come out and defend decisions because other parties have come and attacked the advice that was given by his department last night - that's not where we need to be.

"I do recognise there's an election on the horizon and I do recognise that parties want to carve out their own space, but the pandemic is too important an issue to play politics."