Poots approach on Peter Corry drive-in concert was ‘unusual’, says CMO

Stormont’s chief medical officer has described as “unusual” an approach to him by former minister Edwin Poots asking about the hosting of a drive-in concert during the pandemic.

The Covid-19 Inquiry was shown a text exchange between CMO Sir Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young on the proposed concert by singer Peter Corry.

In the messages from June 2020, Dr McBride told Prof Young that then agriculture minister Edwin Poots had been in touch with him to ask whether the concern could be allowed.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Former agriculture minister Edwin Poots (Liam McBurney/PA)

The CMO told Prof Young that he had asked Mr Poots to provide further information on numbers attending, toilets and cleaning facilities.

No further detail on the planned concert was outlined in the exchange shown to the inquiry on Friday.

Counsel to the inquiry Claire Dobbin KC asked Dr McBride if such direct ministerial approaches were commonplace during the pandemic.

“I mean it was an unusual approach, it wasn’t a typical approach,” he replied.

“Undoubtedly ministers would have made contact about certain aspects during the pandemic.”

Ms Dobbin referred to a comment in the exchange with Prof Young in which Dr McBride suggested that such an event might only be permitted with legislative change.

The senior lawyer questioned whether the CMO had strayed from his role giving medical advice to also offering legal advice.

Dr McBride insisted he was only seeking to clarify what the legislative position was at that point.

“I’m basically asking policy colleagues to check what the legislation is,” he said of the messages.

“It’s not for me to interpret legislation, change legislation.”

Ms Dobbin asked why he had told Mr Poots that it was not his role to handle such a query.

Dr McBride said he had strike a “balance” during the pandemic, stressing the importance of maintaining “important” relationships with Executive ministers during what was a “difficult and challenging time”.

Coronavirus – Sun Aug 22, 2021
Chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride (PA)

“I agree that it’s unusual,” he said of the approach.

“I could have said ‘sorry, I can’t discuss this with you, get one of your officials to check the regulations’.

“But, of course, one of his officials wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to check the regulations because he wasn’t in the relevant department at the time.”

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