Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that the Irish Government is considering advising people not to travel to Northern Ireland from later this week amid the worsening Covid-19 situation in the region.
Mr Varadkar made the remarks as he discussed plans for the Irish Government to ease Level 5 restrictions from next week and move back to Level 3.
He said it was not clear to what extent hospitality can be reopened and at what point people will be allowed to leave their county or whether it will be longer than Christmas week.
Mr Varadkar said there was an outstanding question over Northern Ireland and whether the Government would advise against any travel there.
The Tanaiste cited the worsening situation with the disease in the region. There have been nearly 2,500 Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland in the last seven days, including 533 new cases reported on Wednesday.
Mr Varadkar also said the Government will need to be frank with people that it is inevitable that, with an easing of restrictions from next week, more people will get the virus. This may mean more people end up in hospital and more people potentially dying.
He said that this could mean restrictions may have to be reimposed for a shorter period than the current lockdown and that it would be possible for two weeks or three in January or February.
However, Mr Varadkar said that while there were significant excess deaths in the first wave of the virus there were little or no excess deaths in the current second wave.
On the forthcoming vaccine, Mr Varadkar said he was now more confident than ever that 2021 will be the year the pandemic is going to be over, that the economy bounces back, and that people will enjoy the freedoms they took for granted.
He told TDs and Senators that people in Ireland could start to be vaccinated in the first quarter of next year.
Mr Varadkar also told his colleagues that the Opposition parties were making a “mountain out of a molehill” over the Seamus Woulfe appointment controversy. He pointed out that since the foundation of the State more than half of the 31 people who served as attorneys general were appointed as judges after their terms in government ended.
The meeting heard calls from several TDs for the reopening of pubs with Minister Patrick O’Donovan, Carlow-Kilkenny deputy John Paul Phelan, and Clare TD Joe Carey among those who argued they were more controlled environments and would reduce the number of house parties.
The three TDs also called for churches to be allowed to reopen. One attendee said: "Pints and prayers dominating the Covid debate so far."
Mr Varadkar said he was confident people will be able to attend mass from next week, but was said to be less optimistic about the pubs reopening.