A loophole has been found in Ireland’s Covid-19 travel legislation that prevents gardaí from arresting people from Northern Ireland if they travel into the Republic.
The issue, highlighted by border gardaí, states that restrictions on movement only apply to people whose primary residence is in the Republic of Ireland.
Day-trippers from Northern Ireland can no longer be arrested if they breach the law, gardaí in border counties have been told. However, the legislation does apply to people who have come to live in their holiday homes in the Republic, as they have made it their “place of residence”.
The situation has sparked frustration in Donegal and fears have been raised over whether this will give visitors a ‘green light’ to travel.
Inishowen-based Councillor Jack Murray said the loophole is counterproductive to the entire coronavirus prevention campaign.
He said: “People are disappointed to think that people can now travel freely while the rest of us are confined to our 2km radius.
“It’s badly written legislation, obviously this loophole shouldn’t exist.”
Cllr Murray said the issue reinforces a need for an island-wide approach to preventing the spread of the virus.
“Obviously the coronavirus doesn’t recognise any borders and our approach shouldn’t either.
“Now, for one section of the population of Ireland to be allowed to move freely makes no sense,” he said.
Other concerns have been raised with the fact that people in Northern Ireland who have symptoms of coronavirus are being told to self-isolate for seven days under UK guidance, whereas the World Health Organization advises 14.
Cllr Murray said: “We’ve always had concerns that the six counties follow the advice of Whitehall rather than the World Health Organisation. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the death rate per head of population is higher in the north and you can correlate that to the guidelines that they are taking.
“This once again reinforces the need for an island-wide approach to follow the advice of WHO which is guided by professionals and is based on global research.”
Cllr Murray added that his hometown in Buncrana has been extremely quiet during the Covid-19 lockdown. The coastal town is normally very popular with visitors from Derry, and Cllr Murray called for a ‘common sense’ approach to keep up with isolation measures in light of the legislative issue.
He said: “Buncrana has been extremely quiet up until now. It’s been reassuring for people. But people are very concerned that this might give a green light for people to come.
“While the legislation has a loophole, we would encourage people to still adhere to the advice. While the gardaí can’t arrest people, we should still use common sense, think of others and not travel.
“Donegal will still be here when this is all over, our beaches will still be here, but not for now.”