Different travel restrictions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in response to Covid-19 will be on the agenda at this week’s meeting of the North South Ministerial Council.
The council, one of the bodies set up under the Belfast Agreement, will meet in Dublin on Friday for the first time since 2016.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that, while the issue of travel restrictions will be discussed, there are challenges when it comes to an all-island approach.
“We do have to have a reality check in terms of what is possible and what is not possible and we need to be honest with people,” he said.
“I think I have to make the point because we have had a much stricter guidance in the Republic with regard to travel - stricter in terms of what is going on in the North at the moment.”
I think it’s important to recognise the dangers travel can present in terms of creating spikes on the island of Ireland. We have to work towards a joint approach in relation to that.
The Republic of Ireland has only approved 15 countries for travel, and is otherwise advising against non-essential travel – including to Great Britain, but Northern Ireland remain exempt.
Anyone travelling from countries not on the green list is required to self-isolate for 14 days.
Northern Ireland has a list of nearly 60 approved countries for travel and is also not restricting travel from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has accused the Taoiseach of maintaining a “passive stance” in highlighting the need for an all-island approach to health.
“We do it for animal health, why do we not do it for human health?” she said.
Speaking about the North South Ministerial Council, she added: “Can I say to you, Taoiseach, that is your opportunity to bring your critique of the Northern position in terms of international travel and to debate that with your colleagues.
“Sinn Féin will support you in that. We need a single island system of protection, as that is the only way we can get ahead of this virus.”
Meanwhile, Brexit is also set to be high on the agenda for Friday’s meeting.
“We’re having the meeting for the first time in three-and-a-half years and I hope it will help us to create a structure that will help us deal with the undoubted difficulties that Brexit has brought about,” Mr Martin said.
“We do need to navigate and manage the island in a post-Brexit situation.”
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