The Republic’s Justice Minister has said it is “not straightforward” and “challenging” to crack down on people crossing the border unnecessarily, but something her government is actively exploring.
elen McEntee said any new laws had to be manageable for gardai to work with and stressed people had a moral obligation to avoid unnecessary travel. She said the vast majority of people were abiding by the rules.
The Republic’s lockdown, in place until March 5, restricts travel to just 5km – or 3.1 miles – unless it is essential.
Those found in breach face fines of €100, however, this does not apply to those travelling from Northern Ireland.
Air passengers who also fail to produce a negative Covid test before their departure for Ireland will have to quarantine but, again, this does not apply to those coming from NI.
Ms McEntee said their March 5 proposed date for easing out of lockdown was agreed in order to try and align with what is happening in Northern Ireland.
Speaking to the LMFM radio station the minister urged people against travel unless it was necessary and said those found out, would have to provide a valid reason.
While restrictions have been announced, some require a change in law, which will take time to implement.
The minister said she was working with the Irish government’s attorney general on fines and new laws for anybody travelling more than 5km from the border, unless they have a valid reason.
However, she said the border remains open and gardai will not be asked to “police every boreen or road”.
“This is something we are exploring further, we have looked at it before and it is not straightforward,” she said.
“What I don’t want is for us to implement or agree measures that are not implementable, that the gardaí find very difficult, that are not credible and that won’t work.
“It is a challenge, we have an open border.”
She said the government was looking at amending laws so that unnecessary cross-border travel could be restricted.
“If we can acknowledge there are people that shouldn’t be travelling north and south of the border then that is something we will move to do.
“It is just not straightforward unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, public health officials in the Republic dismissed the idea of Ireland becoming a “zero-Covid island”.
Professor Philip Nolan of the National Public Health Emergency Team said it was a premise based on “utterly false promises” that carry huge risk.
He said no system could guarantee the exclusion of a new disease or variant and Ireland would remain a “leaky country” vulnerable to both threats.
There have been calls for the measure to be considered to allow the lockdown to be lifted sooner.
“It would be an incredibly risky thing to do because we will inevitably be a leaky country and get reintroduction of disease, and that could easily be new variants,” he said saying concentration should be on reducing community transmission.
Sinn Fein has voiced its support for a zero-Covid approach, but said it would need to be approached on an all-island basis.
Some in the Irish Government have also voiced their support, but Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Tanasite have expressed doubt.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan also said the country had essential links with Europe including Northern Ireland that made it unrealistic to seal borders.
— to www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk