Northern Ireland news

Taoiseach seeking engagement with Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill to 'maximise' cross-border Covid cooperation

Micheál Martin said he was 'very, very concerned' about the level of Covid-19 cases north of the border. Picture by AP Photo/Francisco Seco

THE TAOISEACH has said he hopes to have talks with Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill in an effort to "maximise the level of harmony and co-ordination" in tackling Covid-19 on both sides of the border.

Micheál Martin said he was "very, very concerned" about the level of cases north of the border, which far outstrip those in the Republic's coronavirus hotspots.

The Dublin government imposed 'level 4' restrictions from midnight last night in Counties Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar claimed efforts had been made to coordinate coronavirus restrictions with the authorities in the north but that "the Northern Ireland Executive hasn’t agreed to an all-island approach".

The Fine Gael leader's remarks have surprised many observers north of the border, given that Dublin was criticised earlier this year for its unilateral approach to tackling coronavirus.

In May, Mrs Foster said the Stormont executive was not given advanced sight of the Republic's revised lockdown plan before it was published, despite a memorandum of understanding in place between both jurisdiction's health officials.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, the taoiseach said there had been a "good meeting" last week involving Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann, his southern counterpart Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

Mr Martin said there was "continued cooperation" between the chief medial officers in the north and south.

"I’m hoping for further engagement with the first and deputy first minister on the issues," he said.

"We are very, very concerned about the numbers in Northern Ireland – numbers generally."

The Fianna Fáil leader said the Covid-19 situation was "serious... across Europe".

"So obviously we will continue the level of engagement and co-ordination with the Northern Ireland executive over the weekend and beyond and I think we will seek to maximise the level of harmony and co-ordination between the two jurisdictions," he said.

"That is not at all times as simple as it sounds because you have two CMOs working to different parameters – very often the CMO (chief medical officer) in Northern Ireland is looking, focused to London, but he has a good relationship to be fair with our CMO and we’re very anxious to maintain that level of engagement and co-operation, and also between the services if that is required, between our respective health services."

SDLP MLA Colin McGarth said border communities needed assurances that the northern and southern authorities were cooperating.

"Border communities, in particular, need to know that our health services and governments are working closely together to harmonise arrangements and prevent transmission where people have to travel across the border for work, caring responsibilities or other strictly essential reasons," he said.

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