Stormont relations further strained by split over travel rules

O’Neill seeks all-island alignment as Foster urges ‘respect’ for Common Travel Area

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Rules on international travel must be agreed together by Dublin and Stormont to prevent Northern Ireland becoming a “back door” for travellers into Republic, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has warned.

“We must be aligned across this island. We can’t make it a better position to travel into the North,” Michelle O’Neill said on Monday, saying British travellers now probably pose “the biggest risk to us here right now”.

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

However, First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland was part of the Common Travel Area and that would continue to be respected.

“The Republic of Ireland has decided to go a different route; they don’t respect the Common Travel Area, that’s a matter for them,” she told a Stormont press conference.

“I think it’s important for business, for family life, for social life and for political life as well that we continue to have the UK working together and making sure that we can have that travel across the UK,” the DUP leader said.

Self-isolation

The UK has imposed no coronavirus-related restrictions on movement within the Common Travel Area, but anyone arriving into the Republic of Ireland from Britain must self-isolate for two weeks.

Non-essential travel to and from 60 countries is permitted from UK airports. Stormont’s “green list” of permitted destinations is updated every three weeks to give “clarity to people if they want to travel”, said Foster.

“It’s not for me to tell people should they go or should they not go on holiday,” Ms Foster said. “If they’ve booked a holiday and it is on the green or amber list, then they can go without having to quarantine when they come back.

“Whether they go or not is entirely a matter for their own judgment,” she said, adding that the Executive was looking at “tidying” the coronavirus regulations.

Relations between Ms O’Neill and Ms Foster remain strained in the wake of the funeral of IRA figure Bobby Storey, but it is “important that we continue to do the work”, Foster said.