Michelle O’Neill says compulsory jabs for health staff raises human rights concerns

The Sinn Féin deputy First Minister was commenting ahead of the anticipated policy move in England.
Michelle O’Neill says compulsory jabs for health staff raises human rights concerns

By David Young, PA

Making vaccinations compulsory for frontline healthcare workers in Northern Ireland would raise human rights concerns, Michelle O’Neill has said.

Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said she would consider any proposal for compulsory vaccines for health staff but stressed she would favour a voluntary approach.

The North's Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, said she did not believe Northern Ireland was at the point where such a policy was required.

Their comments came ahead of an anticipated move by the British government to make vaccination a requirement for frontline NHS staff in England.

Hijacked bus – Co Antrim
Nichola Mallon said she did not believe it was the right time to introduce the policy in Northern Ireland. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

“We’re yet to receive that advice from the Health Minister (Robin Swann) here, but certainly I will engage with him on the issue,” said Ms O’Neill.

“I have always been someone who would be more of an advocate of encouraging uptake of the vaccine, educating people as to why it’s so important and I think those people that work in the health service obviously understand that more than most.

“So let’s have that conversation with the Health Minister and if he brings forward a proposal then I’ll obviously have to consider that.

“I think mandatory vaccines are obviously something that is always going to come with its human rights concerns and others, so we have to take a decision based on having all that information.”

Vaccine passports

There are ongoing divisions within the Northern Ireland Executive on the issue of whether mandatory vaccine passports should be introduced for entry to hospitality venues.

The Executive has advised venues to carry out Covid entry checks and an official app has been developed to enable people to show proof of their vaccine status.

However, the administration has stopped short of making it a legal requirement of entry, similar to the system operating in the Republic.

The issue has divided the Stormont administration, with the SDLP and Alliance Party calling for legally enforceable Covid passports for nightlife venues.

SDLP minister Ms Mallon said she would prefer the Executive to move on vaccine passports at this point, rather than compulsory vaccines for healthcare workers.

“I don’t think we need to go down that route right now,” she said of making jabs compulsory for frontline health staff.

“We believe as a party that if we were to introduce the Covid certification in the hospitality settings we would see a significant increase in the level of uptake in vaccines particularly among the younger cohort, which we know is comparatively low when we look at other places.”

In another Covid-related development, Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis has tested positive for the virus.

Mr Lewis tweeted that thanks to the vaccine he is experiencing “only mild symptoms”.

“I have been self-isolating since I first experienced signs of symptoms and following my positive PCR result I will continue to do so in line with Government regulations,” he said.

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