Van Morrison has issued legal proceedings against Northern Ireland’s Department of Health and its minister Robin Swann over an opinion piece written for Rolling Stone magazine.
In September 2020, Morrison released three anti-lockdown songs, with lyrics that scientists accused of “making up crooked facts”.
“The new normal is not normal,” he sang. “We were born to be free.”
In response, Swann wrote for the US magazine describing Morrison’s songs as a “smear” on those involved in the public health response to the virus, and highlighting the damage the musician might cause to public messaging around Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
In the piece, Swann expressed “a real feeling of disappointment” in Morrison, who he acknowledged as a “music legend”.
“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 wrote.
“His words will give great comfort to the conspiracy theorists – the tinfoil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms.”
Swann called Morrison’s actions “bizarre and irresponsible” and said: “I only hope no one takes him seriously. He’s no teacher, no teacher.”
Morrison’s solicitors, John J Rice and Co, confirmed that he was taking legal action against the Department of Health and Swann, but declined to specify on what grounds.
The Northern Ireland Department of Health told the BBC it would not comment on active legal matters.
Morrison’s action against Swann follows the Ulster Unionist party minister issuing proceedings against Morrison in November 2021.
In June, four gigs by Morrison at the Europa Hotel in Belfast were canceled at the last minute owing to Northern Ireland’s “blanket ban” on live music in licensed venues as part of its coronavirus restrictions.
During a dinner event at the venue, Morrison and DUP MP Ian Paisley chanted that Swann was “very dangerous”.
Paisley said after the event: “I certainly don’t believe Robin is dangerous. I think the parody and sarcasm of that comment is obvious. There is a balance in all of these matters and at times we get them right and at times wrong. We are all entitled to our own views on how the lockdown has been managed.”
Swann’s proceedings against Morrison are also understood to reference two further incidents: an interview in which Morrison allegedly referred to Swann as a “fraud”, and a video in which he repeats the “dangerous” accusation.
Morrison’s legal firm responded: “Mr Morrison asserts within that defense that the words used by him related to a matter of public interest and constituted fair comment.”
In January 2021, Morrison said he intended to ask the high court in Belfast to review the policy banning live music.
“We will be seeking leave for judicial review to challenge the blanket ban on live music in licensed premises in Northern Ireland,” said his solicitor, Joe Rice at the time. “We’re not aware of any credible scientific or medical evidence to justify this particular blanket ban … and we’re going to challenge this in the high court.”
Last August, however, Morrison dropped the challenge.