Health minister and vaccination staff facing threats of violence

The Health Minister has been warned to review his security arrangements after being warned by police of a threat against him.

It emerged shortly after Robin Swann had told Stormont's health committee that staff involved in Northern Ireland's vaccination programme have also been targeted with threats of violence by anti-vaxxers.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said that the threat is purely Covid related, and not from paramilitaries.

Mr Beattie said: "In the last few days, my friend and colleague Robin Swann has been contacted by the PSNI in relation to threats made against him and now has to review his security arrangements again.

"What sort of society are we becoming where Northern Ireland's Health Minister is now having to deal with yet more threats and intimidation?

"This isn't the first time Robin has had to deal with this.

"He has received death threats in the last 18 months against both him and his family, and now this latest threat.

"In the last 24 hours, I have read yet more vile online comments directed at Robin."

Mr Beattie added: "Not only is Robin Northern Ireland's health minister, he is also a husband and a father."

Mr Beattie also called on social media companies to do more to clamp down on online abuse and threats.

A PSNI spokesperson said: "We do not discuss the security of individuals and no inference should be drawn from this.

"However, if we receive information that a person's life may be at risk, we will inform them accordingly.

"We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk."

Mr Swann gave evidence to the health committee on Thursday, where he said that there was now a "different level" of opposition being displayed to vaccination, which he described as "abhorrent".

During the committee hearing, UUP MLA Alan Chambers said politicians in Northern Ireland were receiving huge numbers of emails from anti-vaccination campaigners.

He said: "I can recognise that anybody has the right to refuse to take the vaccine, they can have their own reasons for that and I have no difficulty with that and wouldn't argue with anybody who has deeply held views.

"But I can't understand why so many people feel the need to actively campaign against vaccination and try to encourage other people to not take the vaccine.

"I am receiving huge numbers of emails, they are being sent to every MLA.

"They make obscene comparisons with what is happening in Northern Ireland with Nazism and Hitler's practices.

"Absolutely deplorable."

Mr Swann responded: "In regards to the anti-vaxxers, there is a different level out there and what concerns me now, it is not just the level of opposition, but it is also now the level of threat of violence that is actually being insinuated and targeted against a number of people both working in the health department and in the vaccination programmes.

"We are now seeing a different level of antagonism.

"I agree with you, if people don't want to take the vaccine they don't have to, they can voice their opinions.

"But when it moves into a sphere of physical threat of violence I think it has gone too far.

"Our vaccination programme is being managed, co-ordinated, delivered by people who want to save lives, who want to do the right thing.

"So the insinuation and the comparisons that are being made are abhorrent and they are uncalled for and they are unjust."