The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has denied reports that some ambulance workers could not respond to the Creeslough disaster due to post-Brexit visa rules.
Ten people died in the explosion at a petrol station in the Donegal town on October 7th last year.
At the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly yesterday, it was claimed that some ambulances from Derry could not help because "some paramedics did not have the necessary visas" to cross the border.
Fine Gael Senator Emer Currie raised the issue as part of a wider point about the difficulties visa regulations are causing for doctors and healthcare services that treat patients on both sides of the Border.
She said that, while emergency services from the North, including fire crews, search and rescue teams and the air ambulance, played a significant role the response to the Creeslough explosion, some ambulance crews based at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry were unable to cross the border, just a few miles away.
In a statement this afternoon Northern Ireland Ambulance Service denied the claims and said it ‘wished to put on record that its response to the Creeslough disaster “was not affected in any way due to border or visa issues.”.
“No NIAS staff were prevented in crossing the border for any reason and we are deeply concerned at any reports suggesting this, as such comments will be deeply upsetting to the victims and families who were and still are affected by this tragedy,” it said.
She said they were blocked form travelling due to issues with the Common Travel Area (CTA) agreement between Britain and Ireland.
The agreement allows UK and Irish citizens to travel freely into each other's countries; however, post-Brexit rules mean those rights no longer extend to migrants living on either side of the border.
As a result, some migrants who work for the emergency services in Northern Ireland were unable to travel to County Donegal.
Senator Currie also told the Assembly that cross-border registration rules for medical professionals are causing difficulties for social care services.
The NIAS said it first received the call about Creeslough just after 15:30 on Friday October 7th, 2022.
It said it immediately dispatched a range of teams, including its Air Ambulance with its Helicopter Emergency Medical Team, its specialist Hazardous Area Response Team, ambulance officers, paramedics and emergency medical technicians”.
It said it then dispatched further crews later that evening to relieve those who had responded during the afternoon.
Some of these teams remained on-scene overnight and well into the weekend as they worked with the National Ambulance Service to continue rescue and recovery efforts.
“The unstable condition of the building made this a very difficult and dangerous scene, but our HART crews are specifically trained to deal with such incidents,” it said.
“Sadly, our crews also assisted in transporting some of the deceased to the mortuary in Letterkenny.”
The NIAS said its thoughts “remain with our colleagues, friends and neighbours who were affected by this incident, and in particular those in the Creeslough community who were directly impacted”.