Formality of deal between Belfast and Dublin for PPE from China questioned

Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy’s deal with the Irish Government to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) from China has been questioned.

Mr Murphy announced last week that a “significant” consignment of PPE had been secured in a joint order between Stormont and the Government.

However, Stormont sources have queried whether any deal between the Government and Northern Ireland executive for the order has been finalised.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Finance Minister Conor Murphy’s announcement of a joint PPE order with Dublin has been queried (Rebecca Black/PA)</figcaption>
Finance Minister Conor Murphy’s announcement of a joint PPE order with Dublin has been queried (Rebecca Black/PA)

The department of finance responded by saying that in the last couple of weeks the finance minister “has been assisting efforts to procure PPE and other supplies with both the Irish and British governments”.

The Northern Ireland executive is set to be updated on the supply of PPE at its meeting later.

A nurses’ representative body has blasted “mixed messages” over supplies of PPE after the chief executive of the Belfast health trust spoke of challenges securing FFP3 masks while health minister Robin Swann said there are “significant levels of PPE in stock”.

As a political row erupted over PPE with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill criticising Mr Swann, the Royal College of Nursing urged reassurance for those working on the front line.

RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said the body is awaiting legal advice on what steps to take if guarantees cannot be met.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(PA Graphics)</figcaption>
(PA Graphics)

Paul Reid, chief executive of the Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE), confirmed an order for personal protective equipment worth more than 200 million euro (£175 million) had been placed and that deliveries from China had started in recent days.

Concerns have been expressed about the first batch which has been arriving on Aer Lingus flights since Sunday.

Mr Reid said: “We are, however, engaged worldwide to secure alternative stocks should these supplies not materialise to the extent that we expect.

“It is a very competitive worldwide market but our procurement teams have done really well to secure what we have to date.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for “urgent clarification” on Northern Ireland’s PPE supply.

“We have been asking for weeks for an update on the PPE crisis procurement plan from the Finance Minister. Despite repeated promises that supplies are due from China, we have yet to hear how much was ordered, when it is due for arrival and how it will be managed,” he said.

“We now need a clear statement from the finance minister. Our healthcare workers were told PPE was coming. We need to know what the status of the order is and if frontline workers are going to be forced to wait for lifesaving equipment.

The Department of Finance issued a statement saying: “In the last couple of weeks the finance minister has been assisting efforts to procure PPE and other supplies with both the Irish and British governments.

“There is global demand for all these goods and equipment and the scale of the pandemic we face means this will necessitate multiple orders from a range of suppliers at home and overseas.

“We are sourcing the market for supplies locally, nationally and internationally in places including China. The task has become even more challenging with the US and India entering the market.

“We must all protect our frontline workers and the executive will be updated on the latest position on PPE later today.”