Letter to the Editor, Sunday Times

Date published: 22 December 2020

The Department of Health has received the letter published below from the Sunday Times. This is in response to the Department's earlier correspondence on the spurious claim that the Health Minister and senior officials “are rarely seen in public and rarely give interviews”.

  • Letter to the Editor, Sunday Times

An article published in the Sunday Times on 20/12/2020 (“Northern exposure to coronavirus leads to complaints against Stormont”) included the following quote from Professor Gabriel Scally: “The health minister and senior officials are rarely seen in public and rarely give interviews.”

This claim relates to the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann. It is entirely incorrect.

In the two weeks preceding this article’s publication, Minister Swann had been interviewed at least 17 times by the media – including by Northern Ireland broadcasters, Press Association, Sky News, and BBC Radio 4.

In the same two week period, media interviews with Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) ran into double figures.

Both officials also do a weekly Zoom media briefing with Northern Ireland journalists. It is an hour long and is entirely on the record.

Both officials also regularly join the Health Minister for his weekly press conference on the pandemic.

Professor Scally’s bogus claim about the Minister and media interviews was then reported as fact by the Sunday Times in an accompanying picture caption.

There is no record of the newspaper making any attempt to ask the Minister or his Department to respond to the spurious assertion.

Later in the same article, Professor Scally is quoted alleging Northern Ireland’s contact tracing is “basically non-existent”.

This too is incorrect.

The most recent data from Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency shows that in the four weeks between 16th Nov and 13th Dec in the region of 94% of cases and 98% of contacts were reached by its Contact Tracing Service.

Professor Scally is, of course, entitled to his own opinions. He is not entitled to his own facts.

Department of Health NI press office

  • Letter from the Sunday Times

I refer to your email of December 22 with regard to our article of last Sunday entitled "Northern exposure to coronavirus leads to complaints against Stormont".

I agree with you that the caption accompanying the picture of health minister Robin Swann should not have stated as fact that he rarely does media interviews, since this was a claim being made by a third party. I have had this caption deleted from our online edition, and I apologise for this error.

I also agree with you that it would have been best practice to seek comment from the minister or department to the charge from Professor Scally about the lack of media interviews. I have now added a statement from yourselves to our online edition to set out your rebuttal of his claims.

We are happy to publish the letter from yourself, both in our Ulster edition and online this Sunday. I trust this is to your satisfaction.

Ireland editor


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