Northern Ireland guidelines on foreign travel to be discussed at Stormont

MLAs are set to discuss the rules around international travel during the coronavirus pandemic later today.

Security staff in PPE at Belfast International Airport
Security staff in PPE at Belfast International Airport

This comes amid “confusion” around Northern Ireland guidelines on foreign travel, and a row between the Irish government and Sinn Fein on the rules south of the Irish border.

The Irish government released a list of 15 countries where people can travel without being required to self-isolate upon their return home, with popular holiday destinations like Italy and Greece included but Great Britain and the US omitted.

In Northern Ireland, there is a similar list of 60 countries where people can travel without the quarantine requirements, but official guidelines still urge people to forego all non-essential travel.

The Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw had been due to travel for a family holiday to one of the country’s deemed safe by the UK government, Italy, but she later said she would cancel her trip if Stormont’s guidelines advising against non-essential travel remain in place.

She is one of nine MLAs set to take evidence from Department of Health officials at the Stormont health commitee later today on the regulations governing who can travel in and out of Northern Ireland during the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been calls from Sinn Fein for restrictions to be placed on travel into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

In the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald accused the Irish government of being “cack-handed” in its handling of the travel issue.

The government has been accused of mixed messaging by publishing a safe travel list despite continuing to recommend against non-essential travel to anywhere outside the island of Ireland.

“I’m clear the safest thing to do is not to travel,” the Irish premier Micheal Martin told the Dail yesterday.

“That’s the clear message – we’re saying to people to holiday at home this year.”

The taoiseach also accused Sinn Fein of adopting contradictory positions – highlighting that the party backed the move by the Northern Ireland Executive to draw up a safe list of almost 60 countries.

People arriving from countries on the Irish state’s green list will not have to self-isolate for 14 days.

As well as Italy and Greece, the list includes Malta, Finland, Norway, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.

People arriving from other overseas countries – with limited exceptions such as essential supply chain workers – are still required to fill in a passenger locator form and self-quarantine for 14 days.

People crossing the border from Northern Ireland are not subject to restrictions on their movements, but people from other parts of the UK will be required to quarantine.