Northern Ireland news

Taoiseach moves to calm fears over Christmas border clampdown

Micheál Martin confirmed there would be no specific measures applied to the border at Christmas. Picture by by Julian Behal Photography/PA Wire

THE taoiseach last night moved to assuage concerns that the Dublin government planned to ramp up restrictions on cross-border travel over Christmas.

Micheál Martin told The Irish News there would be "no specific restrictions introduced on a north-south basis".

However, measures that limit all but essential travel across the Republic are expected to remain in place even when other restrictions are relaxed over the festive period.

Concerns about the potential for closing the border were triggered by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who earlier this week highlighted higher coronavirus infection rates in the north.

The Fine Gael leader said north-south travel was a "risk that we cannot ignore".

He is reported to have voiced similar sentiments when addressing a meeting of his parliamentary party on Wednesday night.

His remarks prompted calls from Sinn Féin and the SDLP to better coordinate the response to coronavirus across the two jurisdictions.

First Minister Arlene Foster yesterday said the Fine Gael leader's comments were "really regrettable" and pointed to Dublin's determination to keep the border open following Brexit.

"It appears that the border has made a reappearance," she said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill also criticised Mr Varadkar.

"He has demonstrated that he is completely out of touch with the reality of life on this island," she said.

"We can do more and we can be more joined up. I would like to see a lot more communication."

The tánaiste said yesterday there were no plans to impose a cross-border travel ban, but there would be restrictions on non-essential inter-county travel including cross-border traffic.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said there was "no question of there being an outright travel ban between north and south".

"It's not under consideration, not being discussed, period," he said.

"We don't have a travel ban with Poland, we're certainly not going to have one with Northern Ireland."

Earlier, Sinn Féin's Padraig MacLochlainn, a TD for Co Donegal, had said: "Thousands of people cross from Donegal to Derry and Tyrone and from Tyrone and Derry into Donegal every day to work, to study, for essential travel.

"There are very, very few people travelling for any other reason at this stage."

Micheál Martin confirmed last night that there would be no specific measures applied to the border at Christmas.

"We will continue to work with colleagues in the north to maximise levels of co-operation in the effort to minimise the damage and the spread of this terrible disease," he told The Irish News.

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