Unionists have backed calls for border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to prevent the spread of coronavirus, despite them being rejected by the UK Government.
t comes after Fianna Fail Senator Robbie Gallagher proposed Northern Ireland should implement similar border controls to the Republic.
On Monday, the Irish Government introduced gardai manned checkpoints near the border, with people from Northern Ireland being turned back and liable for a fine of €100 if they cross without good cause.
Asked if they were considering introducing a similar policy in Northern Ireland a Department of Health spokesperson said: “The public health regulations state you must not travel away from home without a reasonable excuse. The PSNI have the power to take action against those away from home without a reasonable excuse.”
TUV leader Jim Allister and UUP MLA Doug Beattie said they would be supportive of similar checks and fines being introduced if it helped stop the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Gallagher, a former garda, said it was “disappointing, frustrating and irritating” that an all-island approach to tackling the pandemic had still not been implemented.
“I appeal to both the Government and the authorities in the North to make another effort to try to get that all-island approach to this killer disease,” he said.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart also raised the issue in the House of Commons yesterday, saying travel from the Republic risks spreading new variants of coronavirus.
Mrs Lockhart asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock if he agreed Northern Ireland should implement border controls. However, Mr Hancock said he “did not agree” and that the UK Government was working closely with Dublin “to safeguard our borders against the challenges we face”.
Mr Beattie said he thought people were getting confused around recent comments on the border from unionists.
“We fully appreciate this is because of Covid restrictions, but we were told they could never do anything on the border and yet they are,” the Army veteran said.
“They said it was because of security issues and the peace deal and that’s why we ended up with the Brexit deal we have.”
He said the Republic was doing something it said it couldn’t do, and now politicians there were asking Stormont to do the same. “There’s no difference between the two things, the reality is that, in extremes, both the Irish Government and the Northern Irish Government could put police on the border.”
Mr Allister said it was ironic politicians in the Republic were now calling for border controls.
“A few months ago even the thought of a camera on the border would have put some people into a frenzy and now you can have what’s approaching a hard border and nobody turns a hair.
“You’ll get no objection from me to that, the problem doesn’t only travel in one direction, but it demonstrates to me that the customs border should equally be there.
“I think it confirms their whole argument was phoney about the border, when it suits you can have one.”