Guidance advising against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and both the Republic and Great Britain will be issued by Stormont ministers, after a bid for an outright ban on GB travel was voted down.
It has been reported that Sinn Féin’s proposal for a travel ban between the two islands was turned down during an emergency late night virtual executive meeting. The crisis meeting was held after Health Minister, Robin Swann shared a paper responding to the emergence of the COVID-19 strain. Rather than proceeding to an immediate ban, Swann recommended issuing guidance against everything but essential travel.
According to reports, it is understood that the DUP, UUP and Alliance opposed Sinn Féin’s proposal, while the SDLP supported it. After the rejection of the proposal, ministers then agreed Mr Swann’s recommendations, without the need for a formal vote.
The paper also called for further fundamental work to examine legal issues which might arise from the introduction of a travel ban. The proposals were drawn up by Mr Swann following consultation on the issue of travel restrictions with Northern Ireland’s attorney general.
Tweeting after the meeting, Swann wrote: “Pleased that Exec has agreed my paper tonight, including immediate guidance against all but essential travel between NI and GB/RoI, with all new arrivals here asked to self-isolate for 10 days.
“More work needed on option of legal travel ban, both legally and logistically – vital supplies to NI and essential travel need to be protected.”
There have been all kinds of disruptions already, due to the 48hour ban introduced on Sunday night.
Sinn Féin finance minister Conor Murphy wrote to Swann ahead of the executive meeting to express his “dismay and astonishment” that Swann was not moving immediately to instigate a travel ban between the countries. Murphy called on Swann to reconsider the position he had set out in his paper.
The possibility of amending the 1967 Public Health Act has been debated by ministers to enable them to introduce short-term travel restrictions. Sinn Féin supports the move, however, the DUP insists there is no need for added Stormont legislation to enforce the move as UK internal travel is already prohibited from Tier 4 areas in England.
DUP First Minister, Arlene Foster yesterday warned that an introduction of a travel ban may cause serious ramifications. Foster said the new strain of coronavirus has probably already arrived and warned that supply chains could be endangered by restricting travel.
“It is a very simplistic thing to say, ‘let’s close Northern Ireland off’,” she said. “That has ramifications and as First Minister, I have to take all those into account as well. I have always tried to be proportionate and balanced in everything that I have done through this crisis, and I am going to continue to do that.”
Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted yesterday evening: “We are facing a very grave situation. There is no time to loose (sic) in agreeing a travel ban from Britain. Belfast and Dublin must act together to keep everyone on this island safe.”