Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

21.51 15 Mar 2021


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Ireland will be 'very high' up the priority list when the UK has surplus COVID-19 vaccines, the British ambassador to Ireland has said.

He says the 'shared island' means British authorities will be factoring in Ireland for any extra jabs they have available.

The UK is seen to have had one of the most successful vaccination programmes to date, with nearly 25 million first doses administered.

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Speaking in the Dáil last week, the Taoiseach said he'd spoken to Boris Johnson about the vaccine rollout.

He said the British Prime Minister "volunteered clearly that he would have to vaccinate all of his people first before he would be in a position to help other countries including Ireland, and Ireland would be high up in his thoughts".

However, it's likely to be some time before the UK does have spare supply, as they're currently leaving months-long gaps before administering second doses.

British Ambassador Paul Johnston reiterated the UK's position on The Hard Shoulder.

Ireland will be 'very high' up priority list when UK has spare vaccines - British ambassador

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He said: "As the Prime Minister has said, that when we do have surplus vaccines to share Ireland will be very high on our list of priorities.

"We’ve committed to giving the majority of our surplus vaccines when we’re at that stage to the developing world.

"But obviously the fact of our shared island and the public health dimensions of that means Ireland will rank high in our considerations as well.”

He suggested that there isn't a big gulf between Ireland and the UK when it comes to vaccine rollout.

He said: “I heard the Taoiseach in a speech he was giving to an American think tank… say that by some measures Ireland’s is only about four weeks behind the UK in terms of the vaccination programme.

“I think we’re all exiting this terrible virus, god willing, for the last time in a roughly parallel way.”

Mr Johnston said British authorities are ‘delighted’ their investment in science and the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine has paid off.

While a growing number of European countries have temporarily paused using the vaccine, Mr Johnston said there's 'no reason to think' there's any link between the jab and a small number of reports of blood clotting.

He said: “While we keep the situation under review, our medical experts are clear people can continue to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK.

"But obviously it’s for each country to make its own decision, and we respect that other countries are pausing for the moment."

The ambassador added that the UK has "every interest" in all countries proceeding as fast as they can with vaccination, so travel and trade can resume.

Border poll

Mr Johnston also discussed the issue of a united Ireland, amid a growing push for a unity referendum from Sinn Féin and others.

He said: “The British government’s position is absolutely clear… what happens to Northern Ireland should depend on the consent of the majority of its people.

“We see the most important challenge as making a success of the present, and the future will take care of itself.

“I agree very much with the Irish Government’s position - focus on making a success of Northern Ireland... and don’t be distracted by issues like a border poll and a big constitutional debate."

In terms of the controversial decision by the UK to unilaterally take action on the Northern Ireland protocol, the ambassador said there were 'challenges' the British government wanted to address.

He claimed the UK 'wasn't making headway' with the European Commission, so took 'temporary steps ourselves' to buy some time for people in Northern Ireland to adapt to the new trading regime.

Main image: Paper pulp injection trays containing Oxford-AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine, syringe and vaccination cards. Picture by: SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

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