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Northern Ireland’s health minister is suing Van Morrison over Covid-19 criticism

Northern Island’s health minister has sued Van Morrison, who has said the minister’s handling of Covid-19 restrictions was “very dangerous.”

Paul Tweed, the lawyer for the health minister, Robin Swann, confirmed on Monday that a lawsuit had been filed.

“Legal proceedings are now at an advanced stage, with an anticipated hearing date early in 2022,” Mr. Tweed said in an email, adding that he could not comment “any further at this stage.” The Belfast Telegraph reported the lawsuit on Sunday.

Joe Rice, a lawyer for Mr. Morrison, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. He told The Associated Press that Mr. Morrison would contest the claim, arguing “that the words used by him related to a matter of public interest and constituted fair comment.”

In June, Mr. Morrison denounced Mr. Swann from the stage at the Europa Hotel in Belfast after several other concerts were canceled because of virus restrictions.

Mr. Morrison, 76, who was born in Belfast and was knighted in 2016, has dismissed the coronavirus pandemic — the death toll for which surpassed five million people last week — as media hype and has criticized Covid-19 restrictions though his music.

In the fall of 2020, as another wave of the pandemic raged, Mr. Morrison released three protest songs that criticized the measures that Northern Ireland’s government had taken to slow the spread of the virus. One song, “No More Lockdown,” claimed that scientists were “making up crooked facts” about the virus.

At the time, Mr. Swann called the songs “dangerous” in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster.

“I don’t know where he gets his facts,” Mr. Swann said of the songs. “I know where the emotions are on this, but I will say that sort of messaging is dangerous.”

The songs also prompted Mr. Swann to write an opinion article for Rolling Stone in which he said that Mr. Morrison’s “words will give great comfort to the conspiracy theorists.”

In August, Mr. Morrison dropped a legal challenge against a “blanket ban” on live music in licensed venues in Northern Island, according to the BBC. As Northern Ireland eased Covid-19 restrictions, live music was allowed to resume.

Mr. Morrison welcomed the news at the time but also said he was disappointed that he had to cancel some concerts in Belfast over the summer.

In May, Mr. Morrison, who is known for hits like “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondance,” released a double album, “Latest Record Project, Vol. 1.” The album, including the songs “Why Are You on Facebook?” and “They Control the Media,” has been assailed by critics who have accused Mr. Morrison of antisemitism and embracing conspiracy theories.

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