David Young and Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Stormont’s leaders have said the controversy over Downing Street’s alleged rule-breaking party has damaged the public health message in the North.
First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill both expressed concern that the furore was undermining efforts to secure compliance with Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Givan said: “I think it has done damage and what I would say to people is ‘look beyond the political drama of what’s going on at Downing Street’.
“Because the evidence that we’re hearing from the scientific experts in and of itself tells us that we need to be having a prepared state in terms of what we need to consider, and so the public shouldn’t be distracted by what has happened with the prime minister and what’s going on at Downing Street, continue to listen to the good advice that’s coming from our health professionals, our scientific experts and cut through the noise that’s being generated from Downing Street.
“But, undoubtedly, that is an unhelpful distraction. It does undermine people’s credibility whenever you’re asking people to follow rules whenever there’s clearly concern for the way in which things have been done at Downing Street.”
Mr Givan and Ms O’Neill visited a vaccination centre at Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn on Thursday.
Executive will meet today to discuss latest situation with Omicron variant & next steps
The single most important thing you can do to limit spread & take pressure off hospitals is get the vaccines & booster
Good to meet some of our incredible team of vaccinators @setrust today pic.twitter.com/5yaY0VGpGP
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) December 9, 2021
Asked whether the Downing Street Christmas party controversy had damaged the public health messaging, Ms O’Neill said: “There’s no doubt that it undermines the public health message but what we’re focused on here today is just to drive home that message that what we have in place here (in terms of restrictions) is enough if two things happen – if we have strong enforcement and if the public adhere.
“So this is our best chance to get us to the other side of Christmas and into the new year. We do not want to be standing in front of the cameras to announce to the public that we’re bringing in restrictions again, we want to avoid that.
“But I think collectively we’ve all then got an opportunity here to actually avoid that if everybody can just double down, just be cautious, be careful in the weeks ahead.”
Ms O’Neill expressed regret last year after conceding that the attendance of her and other party colleagues at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey, at a time when strict limits on funerals were in place, had damaged the public health messaging in the North.