Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick has told the Dáil Éireann that the time has come to deploy the Army to stop non-essential cross border travel, blaming a lack of cross border cooperation for the high numbers of positive Covid-19 cases in border areas, specifically north Louth.
As of midnight Wednesday, there were 482 new Covid-19 cases nationwide, with 17 of those in Louth and 13 of those in Monaghan, as well as 24 in Donegal. There have been 804 positive Covid-19 cases along the border counties in the last 14 days.
Speaking on Thursday, Deputy Fitzpatrick reiterated his concerns that people and businesses in the north of the county were being let down given those living over the border were free to travel south, with no restrictions put upon them.
“We need to protect our people and businesses,” he said. “We have a serious issue at the moment. I come from Dundalk. What will happen on Friday in the North if they start opening pubs and restaurants? People will travel from the South across the Border and vice versa. That will cause serious problems. We must do something about it.”
The former Fine Gael TD said there was no way it was possible for Gardai to conduct checkpoints at the approximately 30 border crossings in the county, from Omeath in the east to Culloville. He suggested the Defence Forces be deployed, suggesting soldiers in Aiken Barracks would be well placed to cover the border crossings.
“As an ex-soldier of the 27th Battalion, I think it is about time we started to use the Army. There is a barracks in Dundalk with 450 soldiers,” he said. “Why not deploy them in Border areas? Donegal is in a serious situation. Louth, Cavan and Monaghan have done a fantastic job over the past three or four weeks. Is that just going to be flushed down the toilet?
“We have to be realistic. I wish to see a united Ireland, but I do not wish to see a united Ireland right now. At the moment, my first priority is for the citizens of Ireland to be protected. The Government has to protect them.”
Fitzpatrick said that “prevention is the best cure” and urged the government to use their “opportunity to do something,” but Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said there was no possibility of the army patrolling the border.
“The Government should get the Army out to stop the southerners and the northerners crossing up and down the Border. There is no problem with people who have to travel, but I have seen this situation develop in recent months and I do not like it. The situation is being abused.
“The freedom to travel is being abused in Border areas such as Omeath and Carlingford by northerners who are coming down to the South,” he added. He described the number of Northern registered car plates he has seen in north Louth during lockdown as “unreal.”
In response, the Tanaiste said the situation was serious but the enforcement of the current 5km rule should be conducted by Gardai and not the military.
“The Government is not giving any consideration to putting the Army on the Border between the North and the South,” he said. “We struggled and fought too hard for too many decades to take all armies off the Border and we certainly do not want to be the jurisdiction that puts uniforms on the Border again. That is not something to which we are giving consideration.
“The situation in Northern Ireland is much more serious than the situation here. There is a very significant reservoir of infection in Northern Ireland and people travelling to and from Northern Ireland create a real risk.”
As part of Level 5 lockdown restrictions, people can only travel beyond 5km of their home for essential purposes such as work, school, medical appointments or caring for a family member.