The Minister of State for European Affairs has said that inter-county travel will be permitted from Monday on a 32-county basis

Responding to concerns raised by Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann about the risk of non-essential cross border travel, Thomas Byrne said if there was a feeling in the North that restrictions were needed that was a matter for politicians there.

"We are opening up inter-county travel on Monday. That doesn't mean that everyone has to go gangbusters at it," he told RTÉ.

"But if Robin Swann feels the need to introduce restrictions on the North that's a matter for them. But we haven't done this on a 26-county basis at any point it's always been done the 32-county basis."

Mr Byrne also said he did not know if Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, had responded to a request to meet about the issue but he said he had no doubt that public health officials would work together on the issue.

"We have left no stone unturned to ensure we are working as closely as possible with our NI colleagues," he said.

Labour TD Ged Nash, who represents Louth & East Meath, said more formal co-operation was needed on the issue and he was "concerned" about cross border travel

"I would ask people in my own constituency and across the border to be very responsible about how they operate over the next period of time," he said

"We know that hospitality is open at the moment to a degree in the North and I have an anecdotal evidence of people taking advantage of that.

"Not everybody in Northern is vaccinated, so therefore they're not safe".


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Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly said co-operation between the health authorities needed to improve

"What we have heard repeatedly from Robin Swann is a lack of coordination and a lack of information coming from the Department of Health in Dublin and that's not good.

"There needs to be information sharing north and south. We should be working together to ensure that the public health measures are observed."

The Irish Medical Organisation and the British Medical Association have backed calls by the North's Health Minister for non-essential cross border travel to be discouraged.

The chair of the IMO's GP subcommittee, Dr Denis McCauley, said education and encouragement rather than enforcement should be used to discourage people for crossing the border for non-essential reasons like shopping and social reasons.

He said Health Ministers and officials North and South should meet to align on the issue

"When you have a situation which is different either side of the border there will be effects on both sides of the border," he said.

"So we would ask that people are informed about this, that they are encouraged about this and that we need to co-operate across the border in, in relation to this particularly in messaging and in public health

" I think that both ministers should meet, I think the public health doctors should meet, they should align, they should recognise that there will be consequences," he added.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann wrote to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, asking the Irish Government to do all it can to prevent non-essential cross-border travel, as restrictions on inter-county travel here are lifted.

Mr Swann said he was concerned that cross border interactions, for things like shopping and socialising, could fuel a fresh increase in community transmission of Covid-19 in the Republic and the North.

In the letter seen by RTÉ News, Minister Swann said while he looks forward to a time when cross-border activities can resume, "we are not there yet".

He said clear messaging would be needed on the issue, backed up by "enforcement if required".

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann

In the letter which was sent on Wednesday, Robin Swann also asked Stephen Donnelly and the HSE to meet with their counterparts in Northern Ireland "to consider what additional actions are required".

He said Northern Ireland and the Republic were at "very different junctures" in relation to case numbers, vaccination progress and restrictions.

Minister Swann also said recent data from both sides of the border must be taken seriously "and elicit an appropriate and proportionate response".

"In the present circumstances, crossing the border for non-essential shopping or socialising purposes creates an unnecessary risk of virus spread. The island, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland - and not least its border areas - has suffered too much already to allow that to happen".

Asked if the easing of inter-county travel rules applied to Northern Ireland, a Government spokesperson here said that from Monday inter-county travel is permitted "anywhere on the island".