Stormont: Varadkar 'out of touch' over cross-Border travel during pandemic

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The Government is not planning a Christmas travel ban between the Republic and the North, Leo Varadkar said. Photo: PA
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By Michael McHugh and Michelle Devane, PA

Stormont leaders have lambasted “out of touch” Leo Varadkar over cross-Border travel during the pandemic.

The Government is not planning a ban to restrict the spread of coronavirus between the Republic and Northern Ireland, the Tánaiste said on Thursday.

Mr Varadkar maintained there would be restrictions on non-essential inter-county travel including North/South traffic as the Cabinet prepares to meet on Friday.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “He has demonstrated that he is completely out of touch with the reality of life on this island.”

It was reported that Mr Varadkar told a parliamentary Fine Gael meeting on Wednesday that cross-Border travel may not be advised once the Republic's restrictions ease, due to Covid-19 infection rates being higher in Northern Ireland.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “It is really regrettable that the Tánaiste should make those sorts of comments.”

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She referred to the State's determination to keep the Border open following Brexit, adding: “It appears that the Border has made a reappearance.

“We want to see good co-operation across the whole of the British Isles so family can be together in an appropriate way over the holiday period.”

On Friday the North enters a two-week circuit-breaker designed to arrest the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil on Thursday 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.”

He told the Dáil that when Level 5 restrictions are relaxed next week as expected, inter-county travel would still be restricted and would only be allowed for work, school or other essential purposes like caring for an elderly relative.

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“That means inter-county travel, including cross-Border travel for shopping or visiting friends or relatives, will not be allowed,” he said.

“We do hope to be in a position to advise people that they can travel between counties including Northern Ireland to visit friends and relatives closer to Christmas, but that will depend on the epidemiological data then.”

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