Coronavirus: NI minister slams Varadkar for lack of cooperation with Stormont

A senior official in the Northern Ireland Executive has slammed the Taoiseach for lack of cooperation with Stormont over Coronavirus.

A senior official in the Northern Ireland Executive has slammed the Taoiseach for lack of cooperation with Stormont over Coronavirus.

Leo Varadkar's government did not consult or inform the Stormont Executive before announcing school closures, or the Republic's roadmap out of lockdown, with officials in Belfast reportedly learning of the guidelines on the Late Late Show.

"At an official level you have the memo of understanding, which is working well, you have officials working back and forward north and south, sharing data modelling. " the official said.

"At official levels, you can't fault much. Simon Harris and (Stormont Health Minister) Robin Swann are doing well and by all reports are operating in good faith.

"We have a constitutional issue in the north, and we're seeing a departure from London's advice, both in nationalism and unionism when it comes to health, and now it appears the Taoiseach does not want to keep the north in the loop."

There have been a number of official meetings between members of the Executive and Tánaiste and Taoiseach over the last two months, with another scheduled for next week.

However the officials says major announcements around schools and businesses have caused a "scramble" for civil servants trying to manage the border regions with no prior notice.

"The fall down is with the Taoiseach himself, before the announcement of the school closures, which is a big issue in border areas, there was no communication whatsoever," they said.

Before the announcement of the roadmap to lifting restrictions, there was no communication before The Late Late.

"We thought after the first announcement; 'Well, he was in America and it was an afterthought', breakdown in communication is okay once, but once it gets to the second or third time, it's not an accident, you lose credibility after that.

"From an administrative standpoint, it's a pain in the arse.

"The opportunity to get significant cooperation across the island is held up at every level below the Taoiseach."

Regina Doherty Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection said at the time of the lockdown announcement, that; "honestly, I don't know why" Northern Ireland ministers were not briefed on the plan.

"I think what our most important task to do after we had our cabinet meeting on Friday was to tell Irish people," she said.

'The island needs synchronicity'

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill spoke with Tánaiste Simon Coveney this week before the Executive briefed the media about Northern Ireland's restrictions, a move that has not yet been reciprocated by Dublin.

"It's damaging connectivity, and now both unionism and nationalism accepts that the island needs synchronicity," the source added.

"Society hasn't faced this kind of crisis in 100 years, so one of the key things is messaging, making sure the public understand, letting people know the outcomes and that's key to managing virus.

"If you want people to hold that message it has to be consistent, we have an open border, people move about, you can't have two sets of messaging.

"The practical outworking of his inability to inform Stormont of key stages means confusion is created, it hurts everyone's efforts, and it's unhelpful and unnecessary."

It's understood that the Stormont Executive will brief Dublin over the weekend about their plans for further loosening of restrictions, however officials within Stormont "are quite aware we won't get the same".

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