Diarmaid Ferriter: The North-South incoherence in facing Covid-19 is ridiculous

It is absurd that, even with new stricter measures North and South, there is insufficient uniformity

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan at a Covid-19 update press conference. There was swift, co-ordinated action in facing foot-and-mouth disease in 2007 but North-South incoherence in facing Covid-19 today. Photograph:  Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan at a Covid-19 update press conference. There was swift, co-ordinated action in facing foot-and-mouth disease in 2007 but North-South incoherence in facing Covid-19 today. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

It seems ironic that €500 million was announced in this week’s budget for the Government’s new “Shared Island” unit when that same island cannot manage a united approach to dealing with Covid-19. All-Ireland health projects have been earmarked for this unit and why wouldn’t they be? How many times have we heard this long year that viruses do not respect borders?

One of the challenges of North-South relations for decades was to generate dialogue on non-contentious issues. When he became taoiseach in 1959 Seán Lemass sought to give momentum to this, culminating in his meeting with Northern Ireland prime minister Terence O’Neill in 1965. CJ Bateman, secretary to the Stormont cabinet, composed a memorandum revealing what transpired between the two men: “It was fully accepted by both PMs that political and constitutional questions were not at issue. The theme was the possibility of co-operation on purely practical matters.” Tourism, cross-Border trade, waterways and agricultural research came up in the talks. The account by Bateman concluded: “The discussion was purely in the nature of a preliminary tour d’horizon.”

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