Cross-border travel: Snub for Robin Swann from Dublin counterpart shows ‘contempt’, says Jim Allister

Health Minister Robin Swann has been treated with “contempt” by his counterpart in Dublin who turned down a request to meet to discuss cross-border travel, an MLA has said.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 4:14 pm
A Garda checkpoint to stop cars crossing the border in February

This comes amid concern about the possible spread of coronavirus on this side of the border over the higher infection rates and lower vaccination rates in the Republic, as Northern Ireland continues to move out of lockdown.

The latest vaccination figures for Northern Ireland show that more than 70% of the adult population has now had at least one dose, with around 42% having had both doses.

The Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, has not updated its figures since May 11 due to a cyber attack on its health service but at that time had vaccinated only around 37% of its adult population with first doses and 14% with second doses.

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Mr Swann wrote to his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, Stephen Donnelly, earlier this month to request a meeting to discuss the issue, amid a spike in cases in both the Derry City and Strabane council area in Northern Ireland and in Co Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.

In his letter, dated May 5, Mr Swann said both governments should be doing “all we can to prevent non-essential cross-border travel”, with “clear messaging” and even “enforcement” if required.

But in a radio interview with Irish broadcaster RTE within days of Mr Swann’s request, the Irish health minister had appeared to rule out any action being taken.

Mr Donnelly had, however, promised to “discuss it directly with Minister Swann”.

Now, nearly three weeks later, Mr Swann has said his request for a meeting has not been met with the response he was hoping for.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, he said: “Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to secure that meeting with Stephen Donnelly.”

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

TUV MLA Jim Allister said the response from Dublin showed “contempt” for the Northern Ireland minister.

“It turns out that for all the talk about a joined-up approach that it’s a one-way approach, and that when the health minister makes a most reasonable request he is treated with contempt,” Mr Allister told the News Letter.

Asked whether border controls could or should be imposed by the government in Northern Ireland, the TUV leader said: “Of course it should happen – there’s a threat to people in Northern Ireland emanating from people travelling needlessly from the south. There should be checks on that.

“I think it’s practical and could be done but it’s not going to happen because the pernicious process trumps even public health, so I’ve no doubt that it’s very unlikely to happen.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw is a member of the Stormon health committee.

She said: “It would have been useful to have this meeting because in Northern Ireland we are starting to open up, and there is the potential for people to travel across the border for meals, or retail, or leisure.”