Robin Swann call for restrictions on cross-border travel rejected by Republic’s health minister

The Republic’s health minister has said he would not support restrictions on cross-border travel.

Sunday, 9th May 2021, 3:18 pm
Garda patrol close to Drogheda in February. People who live in Northern Ireland faced fines for crossing the Irish border without "a reasonable excuse" but now the Irish government have rejected Robin Swann's pleas to stop cross border travel into the Province. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

Stephen Donnelly said he did not think the Covid-19 situation in border counties currently warranted the measure.

Last week Stormont’s Health Minister Robin Swann wrote to Mr Donnelly calling for a halt to non-essential cross-border travel, insisting it should be done “by enforcement if required”.

The letter was written after recent surges in infection numbers in Donegal and across the border in the Derry City and Strabane council area.

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Mr Donnelly said the spikes in Donegal were largely confined to two specific electoral areas and he said the infection rates were now on a downward trajectory again.

From Monday, a lockdown restriction preventing non-essential travel between counties will lift in the Irish Republic.

“We have an open border, a very open border on the island,” Mr Donnelly told RTE Radio One.

“I don’t want to see that change, the Irish Government does not want to see that change. I believe that the island is doing very well, both north and south, at the moment and actually Donegal is doing quite well.”

Mr Donnelly said a formal response to Mr Swann was still being formulated by his officials. He said he would also be speaking with his northern counterpart next week about the issue.

“It’s a conversation we’ll have at government and obviously I’ll discuss it directly with Minister Swann,” he said.

“My own view right now is that the epidemiological situation wouldn’t warrant that, we are opening up to inter-county travel, we are not changing that tomorrow certainly.”

In last Wednesday’s letter to Mr Donnelly, seen by the PA news agency, Mr Swann warned of a “fresh increase of community transmission of Covid-19”.

He said that both jurisdictions should do everything possible to prevent non-essential cross-border travel.

The letter said: “I wish to place on record my concern at the potential for cross-border interactions to fuel a fresh increase in community transmission and Covid-19 cases in respective jurisdictions.

“Our two jurisdictions are at different junctures, in terms of number of cases, the current trajectory of the epidemic, vaccination progress and Covid-19 restrictions.

“However, that should not hamper continued co-operation in key areas

“In particular, I believe we should be doing all we can to prevent non-essential cross-border travel at this time.

“This will require clear messaging, backed up by enforcement if required.”