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Confusion over Executive rules on foreign trips as MLA cancels holiday to Italy after backlash

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‘If they have booked a holiday and it is on the green or amber list, then they can go without having to quarantine when they come back. It is a matter for their own judgment’ — Arlene Foster

‘If they have booked a holiday and it is on the green or amber list, then they can go without having to quarantine when they come back. It is a matter for their own judgment’ — Arlene Foster

PA

‘Given that this (Great Britain) is where the biggest risk comes from, we need to act on that’
— Michelle O'Neill

‘Given that this (Great Britain) is where the biggest risk comes from, we need to act on that’ — Michelle O'Neill

‘Sinn Fein has no moral authority to lecture anyone (about Covid-19 regulations)’ — Steve Aiken

‘Sinn Fein has no moral authority to lecture anyone (about Covid-19 regulations)’ — Steve Aiken

‘It is important everyone, particularly in representative roles, adheres both to the spirit and letter of guidance’ — Paula Bradshaw

‘It is important everyone, particularly in representative roles, adheres both to the spirit and letter of guidance’ — Paula Bradshaw

‘If they have booked a holiday and it is on the green or amber list, then they can go without having to quarantine when they come back. It is a matter for their own judgment’ — Arlene Foster

Stormont has been thrown into confusion over its Covid-19 holiday rules after an MLA sparked controversy by saying she'd be taking a family break to Italy - only to cancel it after she came in for criticism.

Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw revealed on Monday morning that her family had planned to travel to Italy for a holiday this weekend.

But just hours after defending her plans on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, the South Belfast MLA cancelled her trip.

According to the coronavirus advice on the NI Direct website, you must only travel abroad if it is essential.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster insisted on Monday that foreign travel is down to individual judgment.

NI Direct also lists around 60 countries where people can visit and do not need to self-isolate on their return, implying that people can go on holiday.

Following her decision to cancel the trip, Ms Bradshaw said she would only travel abroad if it is "essential" or until the "guidance changes".

She had defended going on holiday to an all-inclusive hotel despite it being against current health advice.

After her U-turn, Ms Bradshaw said: "Like many people, I have a holiday booked, in my case to Italy.

"I should be clear when I said I would operate within the guidance, that obviously includes not travelling if the regulations and guidance at the time state I should not do so.

"That is currently the case.

"It is important everyone, particularly in representative roles, adheres both to the spirit and letter of that guidance."

Ms Bradshaw was criticised by callers on the radio show, but was also defended by Belfast actor Charlie Lawson, who was calling from Mallorca.

The Coronation Street star said the situation around people going on holidays is "Fubar" - a military acronym standing for "f***** up beyond all recognition".

"The time has come, to me, for people to get on with their lives," he said.

"Nothing is going to change until there is a vaccination. This isn't going to go away....

"In the meantime people who are vulnerable, God bless them, have to take care and everybody else needs to get on with their lives.

"It's as simple as that."

Following the controversy over Ms Bradshaw's holiday DUP leader Mrs Foster said she would not tell people whether they should go ahead with holidays or not, insisting it was a matter for their own judgment.

This contradicts the Executive's coronavirus advice, which states that you "should not travel abroad unless it's essential".

Thousands of holidaymakers have had to cancel their trips abroad because of the Executive's guidelines.

On a visit to Ballymena on Monday, Mrs Foster said it was not for her to tell people whether they should proceed with foreign holidays.

She noted there was a list of countries on Northern Ireland's quarantine exemption list and people travelling to and from those destinations would not have to self-isolate when they land.

"It's not up to me to tell people should they go or should they not go," she said during a visit to see redevelopment work at the Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort.

"If they have booked a holiday and they (the destination) are on the green or amber list, then they can go without having to quarantine when they come back.

"Whether they go or not is entirely a matter for their own judgment."

Mrs Foster said Stormont officials were seeking to "tidy up" coronavirus regulations to keep them in line with recent decisions taken by the Executive.

Ms Bradshaw's holiday controversy came as the Republic was due to finalise its 'green list' of countries exempt from quarantine. It was due to be finalised on Monday, but has been postponed.

Only countries that have an infection rate the same or lower than the Republic will be included on the list.

It means Britain and the US are set to be excluded, as potentially are popular holiday destinations such as France, Spain and Portugal. But with no cross-border travel restrictions, people flying into Dublin and Belfast can move freely over the frontier regardless of the different quarantine rules. Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said we should act to protect against travellers from Britain spreading coronavirus here.

"It is my view that, given that this is where the biggest risk comes from, we need to act on that," she said.

She called for an alignment of the rules north and south and said that "probably" the biggest risk to the spread of Covid-19 is people travelling here from Britain.

British visitors are expected to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in the Republic.

Mrs O'Neill said community transmission in Britain "is so much higher".

"Probably the biggest risk to us is travel from Britain. It is something I am concerned about," she said.

UUP leader Steve Aiken said that Sinn Fein had "no moral authority to lecture anyone" about Covid-19 regulations following the controversy over Bobby Storey's funeral.

Large crowds gathered for the veteran republican's funeral in west Belfast last month, including Mrs O'Neill and other senior party members.

Mr Aiken said: "The fact that Michelle O'Neill, or more likely those purporting to be epidemiologists at Connelly House, don't realise that spikes and clusters are a significant factor in the spread of this disease and that outbreaks elsewhere on these islands need to be contained locally, rather than attempting to impose borders within our own country, smacks again of political opportunism of the worst kind."

Mrs Foster was also asked about the different approaches on both sides of the border, saying there has "always" been differences as they work through the pandemic, but the two governments have always communicated with each other.

"The decisions are taken around our travel regulations on the advice from the Chief Medical Officer (Dr Michael McBride) working in the 'four nations' approach across the UK, so there's an understanding as to why that is the case," she said.

Belfast Telegraph