Intercounty travel: Junior Ministers call for relaxation of ‘hugely frustrating’ ban

Growing pressure from within Government to ease Covid curbs on travel around country

 Minister of State at the Department of Health, Anne Rabbitte, says she dord not agree with ‘tying people down’. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

Minister of State at the Department of Health, Anne Rabbitte, says she dord not agree with ‘tying people down’. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

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The Government is coming under pressure from within its own ranks to relax rules on intercounty travel.

Two Ministers of State told The Irish Times that the rules, which limit travel to inside one’s county or into a neighbouring county as long as it is within 20km of one’s home, need to be re-examined.

“My personal view is that intercounty travel should open up immediately, that confining people to their own county – people are finding it hugely frustrating,” said Limerick county TD Niall Collins.

Mr Collins, who is Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education, said that outdoor activities should be permitted on a wider geographic basis.

“If we’re allowing outdoor activity and limited socialising, restricting it to within your county doesn’t make sense,” he said.

‘Disrepute’

He added that many people “aren’t adhering” to the rules which was having the wider effect of “bringing the whole thing into a little bit of disrepute”.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Anne Rabbitte said she did not agree with “tying people down”.

“That’s not how I operate,” the Galway East TD said, adding that people should be permitted to travel outside their county on the basis they conform with all other public health measures while they are doing it.

“We’re all adults, let’s treat everybody like adults. We’re 14 months in this pandemic, we know what’s expected, we should do positive reinforcement rather than keeping people locked down,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said she too believed that compliance was slipping away with the in-county travel limitations.

It is currently expected that intercounty travel will not be permitted until June.

“The people have moved on, they’re moving, they’re not staying to their set location by any manner or means,” Ms Rabbitte said, adding that the restrictions on intercounty also create a significant policing burden.

Meet up outside

She said people should be able to meet up outside, in line with the current public health restrictions, but in another county, allowing families to see each other.

“That’s how you recognise vaccination is working – that’s how you say to people, the hard work is paying off.”

However, not all Ministers of State agree on the issue.

Minister for Financial Services Seán Fleming said the county-boundary rule was clear and understandable and shouldn’t be removed at this stage.

Mary Butler, who is Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health and older people, said “great progress” had been made during April and the easing of restrictions on a weekly basis was proving very effective.

“I think it is important not to rush and to follow the public health advice to make sure that this time when we open we will be able to stay open,” she said.

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