A call has been made for the Army to be introduced along the Border to limit travel between Northern Ireland and the Republic because of different Covid-19 restrictions and levels of the virus in the two jurisdictions.
Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick said counties Louth, Meath and Monaghan had done a “fantastic job” in recent weeks in cutting down the rate of coronavirus.
“Are we just going to flush it down the toilet?” he asked, as he criticised the number of people with northern-registered cars crossing the Border into the Republic, and claimed that the 5km travel restriction was being abused at a time when the rates of infection in the North were so high.
Warning that the State could end up in a third lockdown if action was not taken, Mr Fitzpatrick said that as “an ex-27th Battalion soldier myself I think it’s about time we start to use the Army.
“We’ve a barracks in Dundalk with 450 soldiers. Why not deploy them along the Border area?”
But Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government would not be calling in the Army and said enforcement of the 5km travel restrictions was best done by An Garda Síochána "and not by military means".
In the Dáil, Mr Fitzpatrick, who lives in Dundalk, Co Louth, asked what was going to happen in the North at the weekend “if they start opening up pubs and restaurants”.
Northern Ireland authorities announced that the restrictions due to be eased on Thursday at midnight would remain in place for a further 24 hours until midnight on Friday as Ministers there argued about whether to impose further restrictions.
The former Fine Gael TD claimed people were abusing the travel restrictions and he had seen a huge number of northern-registered cars crossing the Border.
With any easing of restrictions “you’re going to have people flying from the South across the Border and from the North and this is going to cause serious, serious problems”.
He added that Donegal “is in serious trouble at the moment” as he pointed out that between Carlingford, Co Louth and Omeath, Co Louth there are 13 Border crossings and “it’s impossible to put checkpoints along the border and stop people coming”.
Mr Fitzpatrick said he wanted to see a united Ireland but his first priority was for the protection of the citizens of Ireland.
“Your government has to protect us,” he told the Tánaiste.
Mr Varadkar told him, however, that the State had no plans to send the Army in.
“We fought too hard and for too many decades to take all armies off the Border and we certainly don’t want to be the jurisdiction that puts uniforms on the Border again,” he said.
But acknowledging Mr Fitzpatrick’s point about the contrasting rate of cases he said “the situation in Northern Ireland is much more serious than here.
“There is a very significant reservoir of infection in Northern Ireland and people travelling to and from Northern Ireland create a risk and it’s a real risk.
“And we need to enforce that 5km rule but it’s best done by gardaí and not by military means.”