Call for movement restrictions to apply to day-trippers from North

Gardaí have not seen behaviour to give them ‘particular concern’, says Drew Harris

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill: This is not the time “to gamble with people’s lives”.  Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill: This is not the time “to gamble with people’s lives”. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

 

Border TDs have called for the legislation imposing restrictions on movement to be amended to ensure they apply to everyone including day visitors from outside the State.

The Department of Health has acknowledged that the regulation restricting movement does not apply to day trippers.

But in a statement. the department said Northern Ireland residents were bound by the same 2km restriction on movement in the North, as those in the Republic, which would mean that only those living less than 2km from the Border should be allowed to cross.

The regulations, due to expire on May 5th, are “being kept under review”.

Concerns have been raised following the revelation that Co Cavan has the highest incidence of Covid-19 in the Republic, higher than Dublin, while the number of cases in other Border counties is rising fast.

The latest Health Service Executive epidemiological report shows Cavan has a case incidence of 753.5 per 100,000 of population compared to Dublin’s 684.6, while the figure for Monaghan is 570.2, and neighbouring Co Louth has an incidence of 463.2.

Gardaí say they do not have powers to enforce restrictions on day trippers from the North or anyone else outside the State because the legislation passed by the Oireachtas applies to residents in the Republic and only applies to visitors if they stay overnight in a holiday home or other accommodation.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said on Monday night that gardaí have not seen behaviour to give them cause for “particular concern” about people crossing the Border contrary to restrictions on movement.

Speaking on RTE’s Crimecall programme he added: “If they have travelled to us as day trippers out of Northern Ireland it’s likely that they have breached the regulations as they are in Northern Ireland and the PSNI are out there as well.”

Mr Harris said An Garda Siochana was in contact with the PSNI on a daily basis about managing the Border area and he talked to his counterpart very regularly.

He stressed that “in general people have been very compliant. We find breaches of the regulations where we have to engage in enforcement are very rare”.

Cross-Border travel

Independent Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick said Tánaiste Simon Coveney had told TDs last week that he would be discussing the issue of cross-Border movement and restrictions with the Northern Ireland Assembly and would update Deputies. The Tánaiste’s office has been contacted for comment.

Mr Fitzpatrick, Fianna Fáil Cavan-Monaghan TD Brendan Smith and Louth Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Marche have all called for the legislation to be changed to ensure the same rule applies to everyone.

Mr Smith said he had written to the Minister for Health seeking an amendment which he understood could be done by regulatory change rather than requiring legislative change.

The regulations were brought in under the 1947 Health Act (Affected Areas) Order when the Dáil and Seanad passed the 2020 Health Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act and the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act Covid-19 Act.

Mr Ó Marche said his Donegal colleagues Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn had already raised concerns about the need to amend the legislation and he said the same rules must apply to everyone.

The “Border effect” on case numbers is evident from a map from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre showing seven of the eight counties with the highest incidence clustered in the northeast of the Republic.

Latest figures from the North’s Department of Health showed 10 more people had died in Northern Ireland from the coronavirus, bringing the total number of Covid-19 fatalities in Northern Ireland to 309

The department also reported that 66 more people had tested positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland. The total number of people confirmed with coronavirus now stands at 3,374.

Data discrepancies

Most of these deaths occurred in Northern Ireland hospitals. These figures do not take into account those who died in care homes in the North.

On Friday, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reported that up to April 17th an estimated 96 people died in care homes and hospices in the North, which adds about a third to the department’s hospital list.

Allowances must be taken into account for discrepancies in the data but, based on these figures, it seems that the coronavirus death rates North and South are roughly similar.

Taking the 309 hospital deaths figure and adding it to the 96 care home and hospice deaths gives a total of 405 Northern Ireland deaths.

This gives a Covid-19 death rate of 21 per 100,000 of population in Northern Ireland which has a population of close to 1.9 million.

In the Republic the coronavirus death toll on Monday evening was 1,102. Based on the Republic’s population of 4.9 million that gives a death rate of a comparable 22 per 100,000 of population.

In the Republic, those compiling the figures argue that they are relatively up to date and include most care home fatality figures.

While this indicates broadly parallel death rates on both sides of the Border, a truer comparison can’t be established until all or most of the data is collated.

And as pressure grew in some quarters for easing of the Covid-19 restrictions, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill insisted now was not the time “to gamble with people’s lives”.

“Now is not the time for impatience to get the better of us,” she said.

Ms O’Neill expressed disappointment to hear reports of “some people who seem to have decided for themselves that it’s time to relax the restrictions that are in place to save lives.

“That kind of attitude is wrong, it is reckless and it is endangering lives.”