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Editor's Viewpoint

Shame as Executive falls into its old trap

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Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann

PA

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann

If the Northern Ireland Executive wanted to prove to everyone watching why it is regarded as dysfunctional it couldn't do better than it is at present. While the other devolved governments of the UK were desperately seeking ways of sealing off their borders to prevent the spread of the highly infectious new Covid variant our politicians have decided to split along traditional ideological lines.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP wanted to ban incoming air and sea passenger traffic while the DUP, Alliance and the UUP outvoted them and decided to do next to nothing except shorten the period when families could be together over Christmas.

It is understandable from a unionist viewpoint that the optics would have looked bad had they voluntarily erected a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK while the border between the province and the Republic remained as porous as ever.

After all unionists are still reeling from the idea that Brexit means a trade border down the Irish Sea. The DUP, having voted like turkeys for Christmas once over Brexit, were not about to make the same mistake again.

Yet the Executive has pledged repeatedly that it will be guided by the science in combating the coronavirus pandemic only to fall into the old trap of politicising every decision and seemingly voting along sectarian lines.

Some 40 countries have banned entry to people from the UK until the new strain of Covid is better understood and brought under some sort of control. Northern Ireland's politicians seem to imagine that the rest of the world is out of step except our little province.

Though to be fair to the politicians here, their counterparts in the Republic have done little to help. It is logical, never mind sensible, to have the closest possible co-operation between the two jurisdictions in fighting the virus. But the Republic's government gave Stormont no warning of its decision to impose a flight ban on people flying from the UK to Ireland.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said the decision left Northern Ireland as a back door to the Republic to those travelling home from the UK.

However it is dubious if his explanation why the Executive refused to implement a travel ban really stands up.

He warned that medical stocks could have been endangered as we are at the end of a long supply chain. However the ban on flights and ferries only applied to passengers; freight would not be affected.

It is time for the Executive to adhere to its promise of following the science, not long held sectarian politics.

Belfast Telegraph


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