North/South Ministerial Council: Plenary and Institutional

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:30 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin 12:30 pm, 18th January 2021

First, I concur with the Member and am happy to work with the Chair of the Committee in tackling sectarianism and racism and making sure that we send out a very clear signal that it is not something that we will tolerate in society.

On the issue of travel, it is a very pertinent question to raise, particularly given the fact that we are in a very similar place across both jurisdictions in the pressures on our health services. We know that that will be immense over the coming weeks, and we are, to say the least, very grateful to all our healthcare staff who are working on the front line for us at this moment.

My view has always been that there needed to be an all-island approach to the issue of travel. In fact, I think that there should be a two-islands approach to it. The First Minister and I have raised the issue that there has not been the sufficient sharing of data, and it is unfortunate that that has not been resolved at this stage. We have raised it with the Taoiseach, directly at NSMC meetings and at the Executive. It is unfortunate that it has still not been agreed. Last week, as you will know, the First Minister and I urged both Governments to get involved. The way to go is for there to be a two-islands approach to the issue of travel, because, unfortunately, when the two Governments — the two guarantors of our Good Friday Agreement — diverge, issues like this become orange and green ones. This is clearly not an orange and green issue: this is a public health issue. We urge the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to have that conversation, and we are happy to play our part.

I am glad to say that we have a meeting on Wednesday of this week with Brandon Lewis and Simon Coveney, and, again, travel is a key issue that will be discussed. Hopefully, we can make some progress on the issue of travel, which is still outstanding.