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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: -1°C
PA Images George Best Belfast City Airport last night.
# south of the border
Northern Ireland became 'funnel' to Republic from Britain after travel ban, says NI Health Minister
Robin Swann said the Irish government did not give the Stormont executive advance warning of the ban.

STORMONT’S HEALTH MINISTER has expressed concern that Northern Ireland was turned into a “funnel” for people travelling to the Republic from Britain, after Ireland imposed a flight ban.

Robin Swann said the Irish government did not give the Stormont executive advance notice of the prohibition and suggested ministers could have taken measures to address the increase in passengers if they had known.

“From what I am aware, by speaking to other ministerial colleagues, we didn’t have any pre-sight of that,” he told a Northern Assembly scrutiny committee.

I think First Minister and Deputy First Minister, like myself, received the call after it had been announced. So it left us as the funnel or as the avenue of getting back in. If there had been more co-ordination and conversations it could have made a difference.

The Ulster Unionist Party minister also questioned the Irish government’s decision to charter flights to take people back home to Ireland while the ban on commercial flights was in place.

“They’re bringing back the same people that would have been coming on those commercial flights over the past 48 hours, so I struggle to see the benefit in that ban if you’re bringing back the same people from the same area but actually putting them into a smaller compact number of aeroplanes and ferries as well, where they will interact,” he said.

Speaking at a briefing in Government Buildings today, Ireland’s Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the government was indeed worried about people coming into the Republic from Britain via Northern Ireland. 

“We are worried in terms of any kind of open door or other mechanism, the introduction of the restrictions on travelling across countries will mean that no one should be travelling except for proper, essential reasons work or health or other reasons,” he said.

No ban 

During his appearance before the committee Swann explained the rationale for stopping short of recommending a ban on travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

He highlighted the impact on supply chains, warning that medical stocks could have been endangered.

“We have a concern about our supply chains in regards to anything that would stop the movement of ferries or aeroplanes, because we are reliant, we’re at the end of a very long supply chain when it comes to some medicines and some medical devices,” he said.

Sinn Féin proposal for a temporary prohibition on travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was defeated during an emergency late night virtual executive meeting.

Deputy First Minster Michelle O’Neill said there should be “an all Ireland approach” to stopping inbound travellers. 

That should have the approach from the outset, Conor Murphy actually in the executive meeting last night actually proposed that. We said there should be a ban on any non-essential travel, north-south, east-west, it should apply across the board. This is not about politics, this is not about one-upmanship, this is about dealing with a pandemic that none of us have ever been through before.

“I would encourage the Taoiseach to work with us, I would encourage the Taoiseach to try to get to the point where the whole of the island is shut down to any inbound travellers, in order to allow us to try to have the best chance to fight back against this new variant,” O’Neill said.

- With reporting by Press Association 

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