O’Neill NI quarantine suggestion a ‘political landmine’, says DUP MP

No new Covid-19 deaths in region for eight day in a row, Department of Health reports

The DUP has stated that the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill stood on a "political landmine" by suggesting that due to Covid-19 people entering Northern Ireland from Britain may need to quarantine for 14 days.

The DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson indicated on Tuesday that if Sinn Féin pressed for such a move his party would reciprocate by seeking to demand that travellers from the Republic also would have to quarantine when entering Northern Ireland.

“There is a far greater risk to populations along the Border from people travelling back and forward every day from the Republic to Northern Ireland for work, or for social engagement,” he said.

“Therefore I think we would also have to look at that if the Deputy First Minister is in the business of pushing these issues,” he added.


Mr Donaldson was responding to Ms O'Neill's comments on Monday when she said British travellers now probably posed "the biggest risk to us here right now".

“We must be aligned across this island. We can’t make it a better position to travel into the North,” she said.

‘Motivated by politics’

Supporting Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald’s call for 14-day quarantine for all arrivals to the island of Ireland Ms O’Neill said she would raise the issue at the Northern Executive on Thursday and at next week’s North-South Ministerial Council.

Mr Donaldson however said the coronavirus risk from travellers from Britain was “relatively small and certainly much smaller than the amount of people who travel across the Border”.

“I think Michelle O’Neill stood on a political landmine when she made her statement. I really don’t think she has thought this one through at all,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.

“I think it is motivated by politics. I really had hoped we would be above that kind politicking, given the seriousness of this issue,” she added.

Mr Donaldson added, "I think there will be a lot of people who will have looked at the Sinn Féin behaviour over the last couple of weeks, especially around the funeral of Bobby Storey and recognised the comments made by the Deputy First Minister for what they were: politicking at a time when we really need to be standing together and setting an example for people to follow."

The Lagan Valley MP said that at the moment there was “no scientific or medical guidance coming forward to the Executive saying people travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should quarantine for 14 days”.

“On that basis I believe people should continue to travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, obviously taking the normal precautions,” said Mr Donaldson.

“We are absolutely clear, we would not be supporting the introduction of quarantine arrangements for travellers from Great Britain,” he added.

Renewed criticism

Meanwhile, in the Northern Assembly on Tuesday Sinn Féin came under renewed criticism for allegedly breaching social distancing rules at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey at the end of June in west Belfast.

Ulster Unionist Party Doug Beattie said some people appeared to have developed Stockholm Syndrome by exonerating Sinn Féin of any wrongdoing.

“The integrity and the credibility of the Executive Office has been seriously damaged and has been seriously damaged by Sinn Féin, who seem to have got selective amnesia, because they never talk about their deliberate breach of the guidelines that they told everybody to adhere to,” he said.

DUP MLA Pam Cameron said episode had damaged the "unity of purpose that typified the response of this Assembly and Executive unity" and had left her "deflated".

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said people were “angry at the ‘one rule for us, one rule for them’ that some have displayed”.

Meanwhile, the North’s Department of Health has again reported no new coronavirus deaths in Northern Ireland leaving the fatality total at 556, and just two new confirmed cases taking the number of cases to 5,859.

This is the eighth consecutive day in which zero Covid-19 deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland. Over that period there were 71 confirmed new cases of the virus, an average of just fewer than nine per day.

So far 130,161 people have been tested for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times