| 16.3°C Belfast

First meeting of North South Ministerial Council after Stormont restoration 'worthwhile and productive'

Close

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar pictured at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council at Dublin Castle. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar pictured at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council at Dublin Castle. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill pictured at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council at Dublin Castle. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill pictured at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council at Dublin Castle. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar pictured at the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council at Dublin Castle. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster described the North South Ministerial Council meeting as "worthwhile and productive".

The two administrations discussed ways of improving cooperation in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges Brexit will pose for the island of Ireland.

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin Castle, Mrs Foster said the common travel area was also discussed, as well as how international travellers arriving in Ireland will be dealt with in light of the pandemic.

"We went some time speaking upon the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union and seeking to benefit and get the maximum benefit from that," she said.

"I look forward to greeting members of the Irish government as our next plenary meeting in Armagh in December.

"Before then we will have a British Irish council meeting to discuss the common travel area," she said.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin described the meeting as "warm".

Mr Martin said the chief medical officers in the Republic and Northern Ireland are working well together and the challenge for both north and south is keeping the community transmission low.

"There is an agreed position to try and keep working together to optimum level of co-operation north and south. We noted that on the island, the level of community transmission has been brought down to low levels and we hope to keep it there.

"There was a general discussion on Brexit and our officials have promised to engage on the technical aspects of the protocol."

He said the Irish Government will seek a meeting of the British Irish Council to discuss the different travel rules between Ireland and the UK.

Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill said after three-and-a-half years, it was good for both administrations to meet again.

She said: "I'm delighted that we have paved the way for more meetings to take place in the years ahead. I think that when we restored the Assembly and Executive back in January - I don't think any of us would have predicted that we would have been dealing with a global pandemic."

"We had a good wide ranging discussion on a variety of issues such as climate, greenways, infrastructure projects, Brexit and Covid-19."

"I think it is interesting that we meet in this format today where we have eight parties in government in some form or other."

"Our co-operation is more important than ever as will continue to respond to the biggest health emergency we have ever faced and when we reflect on the previous months, we must reflect on the fact that 2,320 people have died from Covid on this island alone."

Mrs Foster said: "Obviously we are very aware of what has been happening in England over the past few days so we do feel the need to have a conversation about the common travel areas.

"At the moment, the travel area pertains to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The Republic of Ireland have decided that anyone coming from the common travel area apart from Northern Ireland will need to quarantine so we need to have discussions around that."

"In relation to international travel, there is a need for a discussion on the location of international travellers as they come through Dublin as there is good sharing of information."

"In terms of Brexit, we want to see a comprehensive free trade deal, quota free deal and I welcome the commentary in relation to a lack of a border north south. We also don't want to see borders developing east- west in relation to trade either."

Mrs Foster said she would much prefer people from Northern Ireland to holiday at home this year, and people should acknowledge that they may have to quarantine if they are returning from abroad.

She said: "We had to act in relation to Spain, and Luxembourg has gone on the red list too. What we have said to people in our travel advisory is clear, we would much prefer if people stayed at home and had a 'staycation' and discover parts of Northern Ireland they have not been to in a while."

"But if they do decide to travel then they need to be aware of the risk and that they may have to quarantine when they come home and I do think we have been clear it is in relation to the risk."

Belfast Telegraph