Northern Ireland news

Health Minister Robin Swann ‘disappointed' at lack of meeting with Republic's counterpart

Health Minister Robin Swann. File picture by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye, Press Association
Rebecca Black, PA

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he has been unable to arrange a meeting with his southern counterpart to discuss Covid-19, for two weeks.

Robin Swann said he had asked for a meeting with Stephen Donnelly more than two weeks ago, to discuss Covid-19 and cross-border travel.

He said health officials remain concerned about infection rates in the Republic of Ireland and the slower level of vaccination, but said he hoped the south would catch up.

But Mr Swann told BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show that while Mr Donnelly had replied, he had “encouraged officials to meet”.

“There still is concern about travel from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland,” Mr Swann said.

“I had asked for a meeting with my counterpart in the Republic of Ireland to discuss this, to see what we could do jointly with regard to messaging, but unfortunately I have been unable to secure that meeting with Stephen Donnelly yet.

“It was over a fortnight ago (that the meeting was requested), now he has encouraged our officials to meet – they do anyway, they meet regularly at chief medical officer level and our public health authority level.

“We have had a response back from Stephen unfortunately saying that he would encourage our officials to meet.

“It is disappointing, I reported it back to the Executive and they expressed their disappointment as well that that was the reaction we received.

“I know there are challenges, the health service in the Republic of Ireland have had a cyber attack so I’m sure his attentions are elsewhere.

“I’ve expressed my disappointment in the past in regards to some of the supports and cross-border work, especially when it came to international travel.”

The Republic's Department of Health has been contacted for a response.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane described the situation as “alarming”.

He has asked for clarity on the direct engagement between the two ministers.

“This morning we heard yet again from minister Robin Swann that the minister for health, Stephen Donnelly, has not been engaging directly with him regarding Covid-19,” he said.

“Frankly, it is alarming. This comes at a time when there are variants of concern circulating across the island despite the vaccine rollout progressing well.

“Substantial differences remain in the two rollouts, with convergence not likely for a number of months yet.

“Both jurisdictions need to be aligned in terms of messaging and in terms of restrictions insofar as they can, but that cannot happen without direct ministerial engagement and co-operation.”

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