A bridge over troubled waters doesn't have to be made of iron and steel, Mark Bain wrote in the Belfast Telegraph just over three weeks ago. Talk was rife about whether Boris Johnson's plan for a burrow or a bridge to physically connect Britain and Northern Ireland was a serious plan or just another classic Boris distraction.
On the back of the disparity between the successes of vaccine programmes north and south of the border, our writer suggested that sharing of any excess supplies of jabs would be of far more practical value on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Yesterday, reports emerged that the UK is planning to offer 3.7m Covid jabs to the Republic. According to the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis have had "outline discussions" about the plan.
The vaccination programme in Northern Ireland passed 800,000 doses last week, around 45% of the population. That compares with around 13.2% in the Republic. Tempting as it is to see this as the act of one good neighbour helping another out in their hour of need, the reality is rather different. Debate has raged about the advantages and disadvantages of an all-island approach to health in general and the coronavirus pandemic in particular. The fact is both jurisdictions share one island, with an open border.
People live and work on opposite sides of this frontier. Our hospitality industry and retail trade need custom from the Republic. You don't need to be a medical expert to see the issues with southern customers which will arise on a daily basis if premises are opened here, while over 80% of people in the south are still waiting on a vaccine.
A cabinet source was quoted as saying that as well as solving a genuine health concern in Northern Ireland, such a move would also be "good politics." Anything that lowers the temperature at the moment given the fallout from Brexit and the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol will be welcomed, as good relationships between London, Belfast, Dublin and Brussels are desirable. The PR value of post-Brexit Britain helping out the EU member state on its doorstep at its greatest moment of need in years will be hard to resist.
But the real reason the UK government is right to entertain the idea is because it's in the best interest of one of its constituent parts, Northern Ireland. Our exit from lockdown will be directly affected by vaccine progress south of the border. That's reason enough to share any vaccines we can with the Republic.