Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health has proposed that Covid-19 passports become mandatory in the region from December 13.
The PA news agency understands that Robin Swann submitted a document to the executive proposing that the certification be applied in a range of settings, including nightclubs, venues that serve food and / or drinks, cinemas, theaters and conference rooms.
Passports would also be required to access indoor events with 500 or more participants where some or all of the public is not normally seated.
They would be needed for outdoor events with 4,000 or more participants where all or part of the audience is not normally seated.
They would also be needed to access all events of 10,000 or more attendees, whether the audience is seated or not.
Mr Swann proposes that the regulations needed to change the law come into effect on November 29, with a 14-day grace period before becoming enforceable on December 13.
The minister asked ministers to make a decision on his recommendation at Wednesday’s executive meeting.
However, in order for the issue to be raised at the meeting, DUP and Sinn Fein must first agree to put it on the agenda.
Confirmation of the final agenda was expected Tuesday evening.
Earlier, the DUP chief said he was open-minded about proposals for mandatory vaccine passports.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was Mr Swann’s responsibility to demonstrate that the introduction of compulsory certification would help reduce pressures on hospitals in the region and would be a “proportionate and reasonable” step.
“I keep an open mind, I want to hear what the Minister has to say, we want to see the evidence and then we will vote on it,” Sir Jeffrey said.
The DUP has the power to potentially veto this decision and a number of high-level party members have already expressed their opposition.
DUP Prime Minister Paul Givan was due to meet Mr Swann and senior health officials on Tuesday evening to discuss the issue.
The power-sharing administration currently recommends that nightclubs and other places of entertainment use Covid status checks on entry, but it has not stopped making this a legal requirement.
The issue has sharply divided the five-party coalition in Belfast, with the SDLP and the Alliance calling for weeks for a mandatory certification system as a way to make sites safer and increase vaccination rates.
The two main executive parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – had resisted these calls for mandatory passports, expressing instead their preference for a “partnership approach” with the hotel industry.
The intervention of the Unionist minister of Ulster, Mr Swann, changed the dynamics within the executive.
Sinn Fein Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill responded to her announcement on Monday, saying her party would follow the advice of health officials on the issue.
The position of the DUP will therefore be decisive in determining whether the system will be put in place.
If the DUP were to oppose this decision, it could potentially block the proposal by deploying a cross-community voting mechanism.
If the party opposed it but did not deploy this mechanism, the support of the other four parties in the Executive would be enough to see the introduction of compulsory passports.
Some prominent DUP members – including MP Sammy Wilson, current Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and former Economics Minister Paul Frew – have strongly criticized the proposal.
Sir Jeffrey declined to be drawn when asked by Stormont reporters on Tuesday evening whether he would deploy the veto. He said he was in favor of a “consensual approach”.
“I am in favor of a consensus approach and what I want to see is a consensus reached on this,” he said.
“That is why we will be working with the Minister of Health to see if we can find solutions that work, solutions that really help alleviate the pressures on our hospitals at this time.” “
Mr Swann’s proposals come against a backdrop of increasing pressure on the region’s beleaguered health system.
Covid-19 transmission rates have also increased in recent weeks, especially among young people.
Making certification a legal entry requirement for reception places has been credited with increasing vaccination rates among young people in the Republic of Ireland.
The deaths of five other patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were reported on Tuesday along with 1,698 other positive cases of the virus.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 429 Covid-positive patients in the hospital, including 35 in intensive care.