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Republic of Ireland ought to have shared its plans with us for exit strategy, insists Swann

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Conversations: Robin Swann

Conversations: Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Conversations: Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he would have liked to have received prior knowledge of the Republic of Ireland's plans for easing the coronavirus lockdown before it was announced last Friday.

Mr Swann addressed the issue at yesterday's daily media briefing at Stormont hours after a government minister in the Republic defended the decision to press ahead with publishing plans to ease lockdown restrictions without informing the Northern Ireland Executive.

At Monday's Covid-19 briefing, First Minister Arlene Foster said Stormont had not received advance sight of the plan before it was published.

That came despite a memorandum of understanding between the jurisdictions' two health officials which was signed last month.

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Mr Swann said yesterday that he understood the Republic's lockdown exit plan was made by the Cabinet on Friday afternoon and then immediately presented to the public.

"Would I have liked to have seen more of a conversation, yes. Was it politically possible for them to do that? That's a call for the Irish Government to make."

Mr Swann said any decisions around the steps Northern Ireland will take on exiting the lockdown will be an internal matter for the Executive.

He added: "Good manners is to talk to your neighbours and to make sure what you're going to do, whether it's always possible in these particular situations, it isn't always practical at this minute in time."

Mr Swann said he hoped to have conversations with his counterparts in the Republic around whether or not the UK's contact tracing app could be compatible with theirs.

Speaking earlier on RTE's Morning Ireland, Regina Doherty, the Irish minister for employment affairs and social protection, said she didn't know why Northern Ireland ministers were not briefed about the plan to reopen the Republic.

"But I think what our most important task to do after we had our cabinet meeting on Friday was to tell Irish people," Mrs Doherty explained.

"And that is what the Taoiseach did at the first opportunity after that cabinet meeting was over."

Ms Doherty said that "in hindsight" maybe the First and deputy First Ministers should have been told of the detail.

She added, however: "The most important thing we needed to do was to tell the people we serve, the Irish people, and that is what we did on Friday evening."

Tanaiste Simon Coveney later told RTE's Today with Sean O'Rourke programme that a "heads-up" was given to Arlene Foster, Michelle O'Neill and Robin Swann the night before the road map to easing restrictions was announced but precise details were not shared.

Mr Coveney added that the Republic's Minister for Health Simon Harris and his counterpart, Mr Swann, have a close relationship and there is frequent communication between the two chief medical officers.

However, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill criticised the Irish Cabinet for not sharing details of their exit strategy with herself and Mrs Foster in advance of its publication last Friday.

She said: "I think it is unfortunate that he chose to not share that detailed information ... that would have been the natural and helpful thing to do as we work our way through this."


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