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Van Morrison Plots Legal Action Against Live Music Ban in Northern Ireland

Musician has sent a preemptive notice to the Department of Health over rules imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19

Van Morrison performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Sunday, April 28, 2019, in New Orleans.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Van Morrison is planning to launch a legal challenge against regulations that prohibit live music in indoor venues in Northern Ireland due to Covid-19 safety concerns.

Sarah Symington, an attorney at the firm John J. Rice and Co. Solicitors, which is representing Morrison, confirmed that the singer initiated legal action on January 12th. He filed a “pre-action protocol letter” with the Department of Health “challenging the blanket ban on live music [and] giving them 21 days to respond.”

A pre-action protocol letter isn’t an official filing document, but rather provides both parties an opportunity to plot a course of action and potentially settle. Symington said that should the Department of Health fail to respond within 21 days, “we would issue proceedings immediately to the High Court.”

A representative for Northern Ireland’s Department of Health did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

As RTE points out, Northern Ireland is in the middle of a six-week Covid-19 lockdown, which forced hospitality and entertainment venues to close. While venues have been allowed to open in Northern Ireland at various points during the pandemic, live music has routinely been prohibited.

Another one of Morrison’s attorneys, Joe Rice, told RTE that the rules around live music in Northern Ireland were not properly defined, suggesting there was an ineffective and unfair blanket ban on everything from bands to soloists. Rice said Morrison planned to argue that the ban is unsustainable in law and not based on credible scientific or medical evidence. (Most medical experts are adamant that large indoor gatherings, such as concerts, are one of the most effective ways to spread Covid-19.)

“Many people in the music and arts world in Northern Ireland have been devastated financially, socially, and artistically by this complete ban,” Rice said. “This differs from the law in England and Wales and the evidence behind such a negative decision in this jurisdiction is far from obvious.” He added that Morrison was acting “on behalf of the thousands of musicians, artists, venues and those involved in the live music industry.”

Morrison has been banging the drum against Covid-19 lockdown measures for several months now. Last September, he released a trio of anti-lockdown songs, then added a fourth in December with Eric Clapton, “Stand and Deliver.”

Upon the release of those first three songs, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, Robin Swann, penned an op-ed for Rolling Stone criticizing Morrison, saying the tracks were not only disappointing, but dangerous. “It’s actually a smear on all those involved in the public health response to a virus that has taken lives on a massive scale. His words will give great comfort to the conspiracy theorists — the tin foil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms… There are also so many things in the world to sing protest songs about, like poverty, starvation, injustice, racism, violence, austerity — there’s a long list. Instead, he’s chosen to attack attempts to protect the old and vulnerable in our society.”

From Rolling Stone US