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Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill slam Leo Varadkar over comments on border travel

Tanaiste's suggestion of 'ban' unites Stormont leaders in condemnation


Row: Leo Varadkar’s comments sparked a backlash from the Stormont leaders

Row: Leo Varadkar’s comments sparked a backlash from the Stormont leaders


Row: Leo Varadkar’s comments sparked a backlash from the Stormont leaders

Stormont leaders have blasted Tanaiste Leo Varadkar for being "out of touch" over reports he questioned whether people should be allowed to cross the border during the Christmas period.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill expressed their disappointment yesterday over Mr Varadkar's comments.

It was reported he had told a parliamentary Fine Gael meeting on Wednesday that cross-border travel may not be advisable after the Republic's restrictions ease next week because of the higher coronavirus infection rates on this side of the frontier.

Yesterday the Fine Gael leader clarified that there were no plans to introduce a travel ban between the two jurisdictions.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Ahead of an Irish Government Cabinet meeting, however, he maintained that there would still be restrictions on non-essential inter-county travel, which includes any travel across the border.

Mrs Foster said she was "astounded, if not a little surprised" by the comments.

"One of the reasons why it was important for us to have a four nations approach across the United Kingdom was a recognition that many people living in Great Britain will want to come home and vice versa," she said.

"I think it is really regrettable that the Tanaiste should make those comments.

"It appears that the border has made a reappearance again after Northern Ireland being lectured for four years in the context of the European Union negotiations that the border was completely open.

"He has to explain why that is the case; it is really regrettable.

"What we want to see is good cooperation across the whole of the British Isles so that families can be together in an appropriate way over the holiday period.

"We know it's not risk free, we're aware of that, which is why we're putting in place these arrangements around Christmas, but I do think it's important that we give guidance to our citizens because I think people will want to be together at Christmas, therefore it's important to give that guidance."

Mrs O'Neill said: "I think Leo Varadkar has demonstrated once again that he's completely out of touch with the reality of life on this island.

"I think his commentary reflects that. I think that we can do more and we can be more joined up.

"We've said this the whole way through the pandemic, we have a memorandum of understanding across the island."

She added that an upcoming meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council would provide another opportunity to discuss the matter.

Yesterday Mr Varadkar told the Dail that 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 went on to say that when the Republic's Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed next week, inter-county travel would still be restricted.

Certain exceptions will include travelling for work, school or other essential purposes like caring for an elderly relative.

"That means inter-county travel, including cross-border travel for shopping or visiting friends or relatives, will not be allowed," the Tanaiste 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."

However, he added: "But that will depend on the epidemiological data then."

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