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Tom Kelly

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar need common approach to coronavirus threat

Tom Kelly


Boris Johnson yesterday

Boris Johnson yesterday


Leo Varadkar yesterday

Leo Varadkar yesterday

Getty Images

Boris Johnson yesterday

Remember the song about Simple Simon? The one were he says and you do?

Well, if you live in Northern Ireland, when it comes to the coronavirus it is not so easy to follow what Simon says. We have two Simons - one in the form of Boris Johnson and the other, Leo Varadkar.

To my mind, the Taoiseach has the edge. He is a former non-consultant hospital doctor and a qualified GP.

The Prime Minister, on the other hand, has a Health Minister already laid low by the virus.

The decision by the Irish Government to close schools is immense.

After all, Ireland is not North Korea or China. Telling Irish parents to keep children at home and enforcing it is akin to trying to herd cats at a crossroads. The Prime Minister has said the time is not right to close schools. But at the same time, he is saying if you as much as sneeze, stay at home.

It is not a matter about who is right and who is wrong; it's all about land borders and islands. And of course scale. Size really does matter!

Whilst throughout history Britain imported most of its royals from Europe, as an island it has not been invaded since 1066.

Which is really quite impressive. In some ways this frames the British view not just towards the EU but any external threat like coronavirus.

Put simply: Britain likes to do things the British way.

Ireland, on the other hand, has been serially invaded by the Vikings, the Anglo Normans and the English - not to mention the Scottish planters. More recently the Irish political outlook has been more distinctly European.

So, Ireland tends to adapt and learn from European experience, rather than any Westminster dictate. Of course, I exaggerate but there are gems of truth in this - especially in a post-Brexit, ignore-experts world.

Scale is what is really important. Ireland, as a small island with a porous border, cannot afford to have a separate approach to the coronavirus. What the Brexit debate could not prove, this contagious virus will.

Ireland as an island needs to dovetail many policy areas - on economy, infrastructure, education, climate change, the environment and now health.

It is neither sane, sensible nor safe not to have a common approach to the threat of coronavirus on the island of Ireland.

So, the Prime Minister is completely wrong. The one Union solution does not fit all UK regions, but particularly not Northern Ireland.

As someone who lives in a border community and has done for half a century, the border is simply invisible. The sun shines on Carlingford Lough - not on half of it!

Across Northern Ireland and the border counties there are shared pharma and medical services. Children from Louth, Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan go to schools in Northern Ireland, as do students from Down, Armagh and Derry attend regional colleges in Dundalk and Letterkenny. Thousands commute from the North to Dublin every day with Translink for business.

Coronavirus, like the clouds, will move across Ireland. It will not recognise borders. The UK Government is not ready for widespread shutdown. They are simply buying time. The Irish Government knows that contagion within a smaller community is inevitable.

At best the different approaches are days apart. The bigger question is whether or not the Northern Ireland Executive collectively acknowledges that this virus won't distinguish between unionist or nationalist, or North or South.

If they do, then they need to point this out to the Simple Simon in Downing Street and ask for collaboration with the other Simon in Merrion Square. British money and Irish knowhow. A sort of vorsprung durch technik.

Tom Kelly is a political commentator and writer

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