There are fears the Coronavirus could be used as a cover for the renewed deployment of British soldiers on the ground in the north of Ireland.
Stormont’s response to the virus has so far been tainted by a unionist agenda, even at the potential cost of lives. The motivation for the unexpected appeal by Ulster Unionist Minister for Health Robin Swann to the British Army is being seen as Brexit-related.
Last weekend, Swann revealed that he had asked the British Army to play a role in “distributing equipment”, without explanation of any necessity to do so.
Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister O’Neill responded by saying that the idea had not been agreed by the Stormont Executive.
She said Swann had requested the involvement of the British Army “unilaterally and without consultation”, and that she had raised the “sensitivities” of British military intervention directly with the British Direct Ruler, Brandon Lewis.
But when asked to clarify her remarks on Thursday, Ms O’Neill said she wanted to “put the issue to bed” since she had had a conversation with Mr Swann about the matter.
She said she won’t “stand in the way” of British soldiers “helping out” with the crisis.
“Whatever is required, including using the British Army, to save lives then I will not stand in the way,” she said. “That’s what I’m here to do, I only have one objective.
“I have raised concerns with the Health Minister around how that was communicated and the fact there wasn’t an Executive discussion, but I’ve had that conversation with Robin.”
The interest in a sudden British military deployment came about despite unionist boasts about a relatively low death rate from Coronavirus in the Six Counties.
However, it has since emerged that the figures concerned cannot be relied upon, as they exclude deaths taking place outside hospitals, including ten deaths at a nursing home in Derry and five at a home in west Belfast.