Sinn Féin have expressed concern over Northern Irish health minister Robin Swann’s request for British military assistance to distribute life-saving equipment.
Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann signed off on a request on Friday for military support distributing life-saving equipment and assistance a temporary field hospital.
“This weekend I have now approved two decisions to activate the Military Aid to Civil Authorities process. The MoD and our Armed Forces have a wealth of talent, expertise and resource that I believe could and should now be utilised to help our collective fight against Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
I believe the army’s skills and logistical expertise could assist with the redistribution of essential life-saving equipment across Northern Ireland to ensure that all hospitals have the materials and resources required to fully enact their surge plans. I’ve also decided that the MoD could assist with the possible development of a further temporary Nightingale facility in the event of an extreme surge of Covid-19 patients.
My number one priority right now is to save lives and protect those of the staff on the front line. I believe the time has now come that the MoD can help me with that. I hope the decision is approved and is widely supported. It shouldn’t be considered divisive, especially as I have said a number of times over recent weeks that at the end of this pandemic there will be only one thing that divides us – and that is those of us that are still alive and those that have sadly passed away.”
Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill said in a statement:
“I have been informed that the Minister for Health Robin Swann has unilaterally and without consultation with Executive colleagues requested limited assistance from the British Army. Sinn Féin has made it clear we will not rule out any measure necessary to save lives, protect the public and tackle the spread of Coronavirus.
However, no proposal to use British military personnel in the north for roles normally performed by civilians has come before the Executive. I have raised the sensitivities of British military intervention directly with the British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. The health minister has a responsibility to exhaust all options, including the use of other blue light public services and civilian contractors, to ensure that ventilators and life saving equipment are moved swiftly to where they are needed most. The Department for Health has already contracted a local civilian contractor to scope out building a HSC-led civilian ‘field hospital’.
It remains Sinn Féin’s position that any proposed new Nightingale hospital should remain under the care and control of the HSC. Sinn Féin is seeking an urgent meeting with the health minister, on his failure to consult ministerial colleagues at yesterday’s Executive meeting. We will also be seeking meetings with the British Secretary of State, the Tanáiste and the PSNI given the seriousness of a decision to bring in the British military.”
The effort from the British armed forces would come under of Operation Rescript. Operation Rescript is a military operation to assist the UK’s efforts to tackle the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom.
In March, the Ministry of Defence announced the formation of the COVID Support Force as part of its measures to help tackle the Coronavirus outbreak. The support force comprised 20,000 military personnel tasked with supporting public services, which included 150 military personnel being trained to drive oxygen tankers to support the National Health Service.
So far, British military personnel have been delivering vital equipment, including oxygen, PPE and ventilators, to hospitals and facilities around the UK in addition to setting up temporary field hospitals to deal with Coronavirus.
British Army personnel have also been assisting with the testing of NHS staff in Glasgow for the virus.
The COVID Support Force includes 10 regional commands which are overseen from Aldershot. In April, an additional 3,000 reservist personnel joined the COVID Support Force.