Political leaders in the North have hit out at the Tánaiste over his suggestion people could be advised not to travel across the border.
Leo Varadkar raised the possibility at a meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party on Wednesday night; however, it was never brought to Cabinet.
The North entered a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown at midnight last night in a bid to bring the virus under control in the six counties.
Meanwhile, Cabinet will today consider a plan for exiting Level Five restrictions – with shops, hairdressers and gyms to reopen from next week.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said she was “astounded” to hear Minister Varadkar’s suggestion.
“I have to say I was astounded if not a little surprised that the Tánaiste was indicating that people from the Republic of Ireland would not be able to travel to see their families in Northern Ireland,” she said.
“So, I think it is really regrettable. It appears that the border has made an appearance again after Northern Ireland being lectured for four years in the context of the European Union negotiations that the border was completely open - but he has to explain why that is the case.
“I think it is really regrettable. What we want to see is good cooperation actually across the whole of the British isles so that families can be together.”
"Out of touch"
Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Minister Varadkar’s comments showed his ignorance and called for better communication between Stormont and Leinster House.
“Leo Varadkar has demonstrated again that he is completely out of touch with the reality of life on this island,” she said.
“I think his commentary reflects that. I think we can do more and we can be more joined up and it is important that we are. We have said this the whole way through the pandemic.
“We have a memorandum of understanding across the island but certainly I would like to see a lot more communications as well. So, I think the communication can always be improved and needs to be improved.”
In a the Dáil yesterday, Minister Varadkar said there was “no question of there being an outright travel ban between North and South.”
He noted that restrictions on inter-county travel remain in place, noting: “That means inter-county travel, including cross-Border travel for shopping or visiting friends or relatives, will not be allowed.”
He said cross-border travel would be permitted closer to Christmas under the plan for exiting Level Five restrictions.