Taoiseach Micheál Martin clashed with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in a row over his approach to an all-island health service when she accused him of taking a “passive stance”.
Rejecting her allegation, he accused her of attempting to politicise every issue and that her approach was “always about politics, not the substance of the issue” and she was always “sloganeering”.
The row comes ahead of the first North-South Ministerial Council meeting since 2016 on Friday which will discuss the differing approaches to travel restrictions adopted by the State and Northern Ireland in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The council, which is to meet in Dublin, will also discuss Brexit.
Mr Martin noted the meeting would be the first in three and a half years, adding: “I hope it will help us to create a structure for us to deal with the undoubted difficulties that Brexit has brought about.”
He added: “We do need to navigate and manage the island in a post-Brexit situation.”
During Taoiseach’s questions, Ms McDonald called on Mr Martin to use the opportunity of the North-South council meeting to “bring your critique of the Northern position in terms of international travel and to debate it with your colleagues”.
Her party would support that because “we need a single-island system of protection because it is the only way we can get ahead of this virus”.
‘Much stricter guidance’
Mr Martin said, however, there were difficulties in adopting an all-island approach because of “much stricter guidance” in the Republic, where there are only 15 countries on the approved travel green list, compared to 58 in the North.
They had to work towards a joint approach, but he added: “We do have to have a reality check in terms of what’s possible and what is not possible and we need to be honest with people”.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said a united Ireland would not be possible without a national health service. "Why would anyone from the North want to be part of a united Ireland when we have a dysfunctional health service?"
He said: “We need a national public health service”.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said the Government also needed to separate Church and State, because the North would not unite when 90 per cent of schools in the Republic are controlled by the Catholic Church.
The Taoiseach said the shared island unit being established in his department would look at how the two jurisdictions could use the other’s health service.
When Mr Martin said he was looking to make “incremental progress” needed on a lot of issues, Ms McDonald accused him of taking a “passive stance” when an all-Ireland approach was needed to human health.
She demanded: “We do it for animal health, why on earth don’t we do it for human health?”
But the Taoiseach accused her of politicising every issue rather than dealing with the substance. He said he wanted to work with people in good faith and not “roil all this in endless political positioning” and “sloganeering”.