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Van Morrison sues Northern Irish minister over Rolling Stone article criticising his anti-lockdown songs

By | Published on Tuesday 31 May 2022

Van Morrison

Van Morrison is suing the Northern Irish government’s Department Of Health, and its minister Robin Swann, as part of an ongoing war of words over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The musician achieved the rare feat of uniting the politicians of Northern Ireland when he released three songs in 2020 criticising the COVID lockdowns, a move that garnered criticism from key members of various competing political parties.

In the songs, Morrison sang about ‘fascist bullies’ and claimed that governments were deceiving people about the severity of the coronavirus in order to ‘enslave’ the people.

Swann was particularly critical of the anti-lockdown releases, even penning an op-ed piece for Rolling Stone to say so. “We in Northern Ireland are very proud of the fact that one of the greatest music legends of the past 50 years comes from our part of the world”, he wrote of Morrison. “So there’s a real feeling of disappointment – we expected better from him”.

But it wasn’t just disappointment, Swann added, arguing that the anti-lockdown songs sent a dangerous message that could negatively impact on public health, especially in Morrison’s home country. “Some of what is he saying is actually dangerous”, Swann’s article continued. “It could encourage people to not to take coronavirus seriously. If you see it all as a big conspiracy, then you are less likely to follow the vital public health advice that keeps you and others safe”.

Swann insisted that he didn’t have a problem with anyone scrutinising or even criticising policies he and his department were pursuing in response to the pandemic, but “Van Morrison is going way beyond raising questions – he is singing about ‘fascist bullies’ and claiming governments are deceiving people and wanting to ‘enslave'”.

“It’s actually a smear on all those involved in the public health response to a virus that has taken lives on a massive scale”, the minister continued. “His words will give great comfort to the conspiracy theorists – the tin foil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms”.

In response, Morrison was critical of Swann at various points, including in a media interview and at an event in Belfast, with the musician dubbing the politician a “fraud” and “very dangerous”. It then emerged late last year that Swann was taking legal action in relation to Morrison’s comments.

At the time, a rep for Morrison told the BBC that his client “regretted that Mr Swann considered it necessary to issue proceedings”, adding that the musician would be fighting the legal action and that “Mr Morrison asserts within that defence that the words used by him related to a matter of public interest and constituted fair comment”.

While the kinds of COVID restrictions Morrison was railing against are now more or less in the past, the disagreements between him and Swann very much continue. And to that end, Morrison has now filed his own legal proceedings specifically in relation to the Rolling Stone article.

A legal rep told reporters: “We confirm that legal proceedings have been issued against Mr Robin Swann MLA and the Department Of Health as co-publishers of an op-ed in Rolling Stone”.

Northern Ireland’s Department Of Health has declined to respond, stating that it does not comment on active legal matters.