Northern Ireland news

Dublin urged to tell public: Border won't close over Christmas

Leo Varadkar said north-south travel was a 'risk that we cannot ignore'. Picture by Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

THE DUBLIN government has been urged to give assurances that the border will remain open over the Christmas period after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar raised concerns about the dangers of higher coronavirus infection rates in the north.

His remarks come as expectations of a co-ordinated north-south approach to easing Covid restrictions over the festive period appear to be faltering, with indications that the Republic could relax its measures for "close to two weeks" compared to just five days in the north.

Dublin government sources are playing down any suggestion that they would impose rectrictions on cross-border movement in an effort to stabilise the south's comparatively low infection rates.

However, remarks by the Fine Gael leader in the Dáil have prompted calls from Sinn Féin and the SDLP to better coordinate the response to coronavirus across the two neighbouring jurisdictions.

Analysis: Border controversy illustrates is the folly of having two, unaligned approaches to Covid

Mr Varadkar told TDs on Tuesday that north-south travel was a "risk that we cannot ignore".

He said the incidence of the virus north of the border was a "multiple of what it is in this state and so is the mortality rate".

He said Northern Ireland was a different jurisdiction that under the Good Friday Agreement made its own decisions and that the Dublin government "respect that".

"However, we would be in denial not to recognise that a less intensive approach to the virus there, since the start, has its consequences," he said.

The tánaiste said the Republic's public health authorities had "very good data" on cases that arrived from overseas but there was no corresponding data linked to cross-border travel.

Yesterday he said that he hoped restrictions in the south would last "much longer period than the five or six days" agreed by the British government and devolved administrations on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin last night said any suggestion that the border should be closed was "patent nonsense".

“It shows no awareness of the realities of the life along border communities, where family members live on both sides of the border and where tens of thousands cross the border daily to work, to go to school, or to access health and other services," a spokesperson said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the best way to manage the approach to Christmas across the island was to "align our restrictions as far as possible north and south".

"That’s the approach the SDLP has advocated since the beginning of this crisis and it would allow families to experience time together at the end of a very difficult year for so many," he said.

"The executive and the Irish government should work closely together to maximise the opportunity for people to meet safely in a few weeks."

Neither the taoiseach's office or the tánaiste's offices would last night provide an on-record response to The Irish News about the possibility of restrictions on cross-border travel over the Christmas period.

A statement from the British government's Cabinet Office at the weekend said it is recognised that many people in Northern Ireland would want to travel across the entire island.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news