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Policing drivers crossing the border is 'impossible'


Divide: A bus crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic

Divide: A bus crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic

Divide: A bus crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic

Councillors in border counties in the Republic have admitted that it will be difficult for people from Northern Ireland not to cross the border unnecessarily — with one describing it as a joke.

Police in the Republic are to be given emergency powers that allow them to fine and turn back day trippers from Northern Ireland who cross the border.

Gardai are set to be given the powers to enforce the measure by the Republic’s Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly.

It will mean that anyone who travels more than three miles over the border without good reason could be sent back, or potentially fined.

Cavan Fine Gael councillor Peter McVitty said he doubted the plan would work.

“This idea of policing the border is a joke,” he said.

“I was born and reared on the border and it could not possibly be done. No way could you do it.

“You’d want thousands of Guards and PSNI — and that’s not going to happen.

“There’s one rule for me here in Ballyconnell and there’s another rule across the border.

“The Covid doesn’t know where the border is.

“I can see where he (Minister Donnelly) is coming from, but in the real world that’s not going to happen. It’s just ridiculous.

“I hope it works, but I can’t see it working.”

The Republic’s lockdown, in place until March 5, restricts travel to just 5km — or 3.1 miles — unless it is essential.

Those found in breach face fines of €100, although this currently does not apply to those travelling from Northern Ireland.

The new regulation is expected to specifically target non-residents from travelling more than three miles into the south, with high-visibility checkpoints being established on main routes from Northern Ireland into the Republic, such as the M1 and N2.

Irish Attorney General Paul Gallagher has indicated that motorists travelling over the border without an essential reason could be ordered to turn back and also fined by gardai.

In the north west, Donegal Fianna Fail Councillor Rena Donaghey asked for people not to travel if it is non-essential.

“We have a lot of people from Derry working here, but people will not be allowed to visit family and friends,” she said.

“We have a great rapport with people from NI and always have had — and we would wish that to continue. But in the circumstances we would ask that they abide by the regulations.

“The Covid numbers were very, very high around Christmas. They’re starting to come down now but we definitely don’t want things to go backwards.”

Carlingford Sinn Fein Councillor Edel Corrigan said she had not heard about the planned emergency powers — but suspected they would be very difficult to manage.

“People cross the border multiple times and day, to work, or care for loved ones, whatever it may be,” she said.

“We obviously need to be treated as one island. There are people in this area who have to cross the border to get to their local shops. Covid doesn’t stop at the border.”

It has also emerged people have been travelling north from the Republic in a bid to get vaccinated.

Some people have tried to book slots on the online system operated by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health — only to be turned away at vaccine centres as they do not live here.

People can book vaccination slots online — even if they live in the Irish Republic — through a dedicated booking system.

However, an NHS registration number is needed at the seven vaccination centres as proof of address.

Alan Stout, who chairs the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, told the Sunday Times: “A small number of people have been doing this.

“We are hopeful this won’t turn into big numbers.”

The newspaper also reported a resolution between Health Minister Robin Swann and his republic counterpart, Mr Donnelly, over the sharing of passenger locator forms from travellers arriving in the Republic.

Northern Ireland residents flying into the south will also have to provide home addresses on their forms, with the data passed on to authorities here.

A further 36 deaths were reported across the weekend in Northern Ireland of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the toll across the pandemic to 1,850.

Separate figures recorded by the NI Statistics and Research Agency, which take account of death certificates that mention Covid, put the toll at 2,311 as of January 22.

Another 881 positive cases of the virus were also announced, 455 on Saturday followed by 426 yesterday. Hospitals remain under pressure, caring for 731 inpatients with Covid-19, including 69 in ICU.

In the Irish Republic, 15 more deaths were announced last night, with 1,247 more confirmed cases of Covid-19.

The overall number of deaths in the Republic now stands at 3,307.

Belfast Telegraph