Threats and abuse over Covid have taken toll on my family – NI Health Minister

  • Video report by UTV Health Reporter Deborah McAleese

Warning: Contains flashing images

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister has spoken candidly on the toll inflicted on his family by the multiple death threats he has received over his handling of the Covid pandemic.

Robin Swann also accused some of his political critics of using “dog whistle” politics to give cover to those engaging in abusive behaviour against him.

Mr Swann said the biggest challenge he and his wife have faced is explaining to their two young children why they have had to take steps to fortify their home.

The minister spoke of his experiences as he reflected on the two-year anniversary of his appointment in an interview with the PA news agency.

“Never did I envisage at any time one of the things and one of the challenges that I’d have to wade against was personal death threats,” he said.

The Ulster Unionist minister said the threats and abuse directed at him from multiple sources for his stance on Covid regulations or vaccination were something that should not be acceptable in any society.

“Through the past two years, some of the personal toll has been the challenges of those personal attacks, the threats, the abuse, the online stuff,” he said.

“No politician, nobody in society, should be subjected to some of the level of abuse that I or some of my political colleagues have had to put up with.

Robin Swann speaking from his offices at Stormont Credit: Peter Morrison/PA

“It does have an impact not just on personal life but also on family life as well and I think there’s a large part of that is often forgot about. People see a politician, but they often forget there’s a family behind.

“So it has been a stressful two years, but also it’s been a rewarding two years for the changes, for some of the decisions and some of the things that we’ve been able to do.”

Mr Swann said he has had to increase his own personal security and the security of his home.

“So I have to explain to my two children what that button is for, why that alarm is on that window, why that bar has to go across the back door, because of the job that I do,” he said.

“The biggest challenge I think is having to explain that to our two young children.

“I shouldn’t have to do that in any society, just because I’m the Health Minister that we have to explain that to my two children, why those additional security measures are in place.”

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann Credit: Peter Morrison/PA

Mr Swann said he had never contemplated quitting.

The North Antrim MLA said much of the abuse was levelled from faceless accounts on social media.

But he said politicians who made personal attacks on him during the pandemic should also bear responsibility. He declined to name those political representatives he was referring to.

“It’s that menacing side of things that I suppose a lot of social media can hide because there are a lot of faceless accounts, there’s troll accounts there as well,” he said.

“But there’s also a challenge, and I’ve made this (point) in the Assembly as well, there’s also those politicians who blow the dog whistle and give them the cover, I believe give them the cover to do what they’ve been doing.

“And I think that’s disappointing as well, that when they see the challenge or the level of abuse that’s out there and also (directed) to their colleagues in other areas as well, that that still continues.”