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'A time will come when they diverge': Government yet to consider plan of what to do when restrictions ease in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland remains in lockdown until 1 April.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the government will have to reflect on what to do when restrictions in Northern Ireland are eased at a much faster pace than the Republic. 

Northern Ireland’s lockdown has been extended to 1 April, but some children will return to school earlier, expected to be 8 March. 

Given the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new plan for easing restrictions, it is expected that restrictions in the North could differ considerably from the South in the coming months ahead.

Johnson said spring and summer will usher in changes to make lives “incomparably better” as he set out a plan to fully ease the lockdown by June 21.

Martin said the UK is far more advanced in the vaccination programme “so they have a different perspective and are looking at it through a different lense than we currently are”.

When asked this evening about what the Irish government plans to do when restrictions begin to ease in the North, and not south of the border, he said: “We are aligned at the moment with the North in terms of restrictions and will remain aligned for quite some time yet, but yes… there will come a time when they will diverge.”

He said restrictions both north and south of the border will inevitably be different in the months ahead “given the decisions that are taken by the UK government, but we’ll have to examine that, we’ll have to reflect on how we deal with that”. 

Martin pointed out that this has been “an ongoing reality” despite engagement with the Northern institutions “improving all along the way”. 

He said the Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is in regular engagement with the Northern Executive, as is Health Minister Stephen Donnelly with NI Health Minister Robert Swann. 

“But there is divergence there because of the decision the British government have taken and the vaccination programme,” said the Taoiseach. 

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Swann told the Stormont Assembly that 468,100 people in Northern Ireland had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. In total, 499,206 doses have been administered.

He said Northern Ireland was seeing the “early shoots” of the benefits of the vaccine, but warned against “rushing out” of the lockdown restrictions.

The updated Living with Covid plan states that there is a strong framework for ongoing cooperation and coordination across the two health departments and services.

It states that the An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland cooperate closely on relevant policing matters, including in relation to appropriate cross-border policing of Covid-19 measures and restrictions. 

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