The vaccine passports debacle in Northern Ireland has been a mess from start to finish. I’ve seen this debated on Twitter so much, but to explain why people are frustrated takes more than a few Tweets. So I am going to attempt to lay it out here.

If vaccine passports/covid certifications are being proposed to the Executive that means Robin Swann or a Health Advisor has said to the Executive something along the lines of – “I believe we need to implement vaccine passports/covid certifications to curb the spread of covid.”

In a normal scenario whoever was making this presentation would give reasons and data in support of this policy and the Executive would debate and vote on it. 

Then, once the decision had been reached, the Executive would present their decision to the media and journalists would ask questions about the issue – especially one with so many implications for wider society. They would ask things like, 

  • How will this scheme be run? How will it be paid for?
  • What data do you have that convinced you that this policy will work? What about those who are opposed to the scheme? 
  • Have you run impact assessments on small/family businesses?
  • What are the human rights implications? How will the data be protected? Will it be sold? Will it be anonymised? Who will bear the administrative costs? How long will this continue for?

Such a huge policy would usually require debate in the Assembly chamber, and consultations to be done with the affected industries before a vote would be taken. 

Instead, we haven’t seen any data to support the policy, no impact assessments have been run, and none of the parties have statements about the policy on their website (aside from the DUP). Naomi Long is attempting to talk to people about this issue on Twitter, but I’m not sure that’s really the place for this kind of discussion. It’s a complex issue that cannot be debated in 280 character chunks. 

There’s been no discussion of other countries who have implemented this policy – whether it succeeded in achieving the goal of curbing infections or how it impacted the economy. 

It is meant to go into place on Monday, there has been no debate in the Assembly, no explanation to the hospitality industry as to how exactly it will work, and now we’ve found out proposals that were voted on have been changed without consulting with the rest of the Executive. 

This isn’t even about debating the policy. We cannot even engage with a debate until the proposals and the evidence in support of it have been presented. If you hope to win the support and trust of the public, you have to be open and transparent. The entire process is a mess from start to finish.