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UUP leader slams Jim Allister after Covid query asking what precautions in place to prevent ROI citizens availing of free testing kits from NI

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Incredulous: Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie. Credit: Pacemaker

Incredulous: Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie. Credit: Pacemaker

Incredulous: Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie. Credit: Pacemaker

The Health Minister has been asked to reveal “what precautions are in place to prevent citizens of the Republic of Ireland from availing of free Covid-19 testing kits and facilities in Northern Ireland”.

TUV leader Jim Allister also queried “how extensive this has been in border areas”.

Last week this newspaper reported that pharmacies in border areas are regularly turning away people who have travelled from the Republic to pick up lateral flow tests (LFTs) provided free on the NHS.

In the Republic those seeking LFTs have to pay between €5 and €8 per test.

In December the Irish Government ruled out making the tests free, but did agree to subsidise part of the cost.

LFTs are free here, with each person receiving a box of around seven per visit.

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Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie branded Mr Allister’s comments as “unfortunately divisive”, adding that he “simply cannot understand this nonsense”.

He tweeted: “I’d happily share with my neighbour, the same neighbour who sent ambulances & crews to help us fight Covid…. or put up helicopters to help us fight bushfires.”

Mr Beattie told the Belfast Telegraph that it is only “sensible” for anybody from the Republic crossing the border to be able to access a test if they need to.

“It helps everybody if they use it and they know whether they have Covid or if they don’t… Covid does not respect borders,” he said.

“If they’re coming up and grabbing bucket loads of it, and selling them on the black market, then that’s a criminal issue. That’s something different.

“But I guess the point that I’m making is that this is not an issue — to help our neighbours in the same way our neighbour helps us — it’s just not an issue at all, and I think Jim, unfortunately, is being a bit divisive with the question he’s asking.”

In response, a TUV spokesperson said: “Mr Allister tabled this question after the issue was raised with him by the public.

“One of the basic duties of a MLA is to put down questions about matters which concern the public. No one should be afraid of scrutiny.

“These tests were provided for use by taxpayers in Northern Ireland. The Republic has its own testing system for its own residents. Is it deficient? We don’t know, but we are certainly in receipt of reports of people crossing the border to avail of testing.

“As for Mr Beattie’s comments about fires, he should be aware that in many parts of the Republic there is a charge for calling out the Fire Service — yet another good reason to keep Northern Ireland within the UK.”

One pharmacy worker in a Newry outlet told the Belfast Telegraph that people from across the border are visiting the premises on a daily basis, but that those who are unable to provide Northern Ireland GP details are turned away.

“Just remember this, that if we have somebody who comes on holiday to Northern Ireland, they won’t have a NHS number or a GP reference,” Mr Beattie added.

“Likewise, if somebody is here working or visiting, they won’t have anything. So, it’s a degree of common sense that needs to be used.”

He also admitted that border pharmacies may have adequate reasons for turning customers away, including having limited stock.

“If somebody’s either passing through or they’re right on the border and they can get a lateral flow test, and it shows they don’t have Covid, or that they do and they have to isolate, then, for me, that’s a good thing,” said the Upper Bann MLA.


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