I wish I had been told about information flow concern, Swann tells Covid inquiry

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he wishes he had been approached about concerns around the information coming from his department at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said he only became aware of the concerns of former first minister Arlene Foster and former deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill when it emerged during evidence given to the Covid-19 Inquiry.

The inquiry previously heard that a civil servant had suggested potentially moving Mr Swann, an Ulster Unionist, to another department, and having a health minister from one of the larger parties, the DUP or Sinn Fein.

He wrote that Ms Foster recognised the operational independence of the health minister but was also “frustrated at the lack of information” coming out of the Department of Health and “frequent surprises”, such as an announcement about hospital visits ending.

A senior official in the Department of Finance at the time, Hugh Widdis, suggested a “ministerial reshuffle”, with a view to a health minister from Sinn Fein or the DUP, the two largest parties in Northern Ireland, to which Ms O’Neill and Ms Foster respectively belonged.

He described this as one of “the more radical options” at the time.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday, Mr Swann said he became aware of the frustrations of the first and deputy first minister through the inquiry.

“I only wish that they had expressed them at the time to myself,” he said.

“I think by this stage I had an open and honest enough relationship with the first and deputy first minister, if they had these concerns, I only wish they’d come to me and said.”

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