The Six Counties currently have the highest rate of transmission of the coronavirus in either Britain or Ireland but is facing a new danger this week as lockdowns weaken on both sides of the border.
Strict lockdown rules intended to slow the spread of the disease are being openly flouted after the 26 County Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister’s notorious advisor became embroiled in controversies over their own failure to abide by lockdown rules.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was pictured shirtless in a busy park, drinking with his partner and in the near vicinity of two other friends in Dublin on Sunday, just days after his own department warned residents to stay home and not hold picnics. Shrugging off the incident with the help of the Irish media, he insisted his actions had been “in line with public health guidance” and “broke no laws, breached no regulations and observed public health guidance”.
Dominic Cummings, an architect of Britain’s handling of the virus and integral to the Tory government, was equally dismissive of allegations that he had not abided by lockdown laws. In an extraordinary press conference, he presented a series of implausible excuses for driving across England while infected and symptomatic with the virus, blaming a need for childcare and to ‘test his eyesight’.
The refusal of both Varadkar and Cummings to accept responsibility for their actions, despite other public figures having quickly resigned for similar transgressions, has caused a visible collapse in lockdown discipline.
It has all added to a deeply chaotic situation in the Six Counties, where there is confusion over what the current regulations are. Dublin and Stormont have now introduced sharply different rules for the planned reopening of public activity, at different times, and with different reasoning.
Plans for phone-based digital tracking systems also appear doomed to fail in the Six Counties as it emerged the proposed systems are incompatible across the border.
According to one report, people who live in the north of Ireland could be asked to download both apps.
Dr Birgit Schippers, a lecturer in politics at St Mary’s University College Belfast, said there had been a failure to address the close connections of Border communities.
“As we move between Muff and Derry, between Ballybofey and Strabane, or between Dundalk and Newry, the use of two different and incompatible apps on this island will undermine digital tracking efforts,” she said.
Aontú Councillor Denise Mullen condemned the disparate approaches of the two authorities and said the well-being of the Irish people had been “relegated below politics and self-interest”.
“The lack of a harmonised, all-Ireland approach to tackling the Coronavirus, to locking down the island, and to exiting from the strategy has been to the detriment to all – but in particular border communities,” she said.
“New Zealand have exhibited the success of utilising the advantages intrinsic in being an island combatting a pandemic – why is that neither the Northern Executive nor the Southern government sought to follow suit and unite the 32 counties’ approach to the pandemic?
“It seems we cannot even ensure all parts of the island exit the lockdown at the same time, let alone tackle it in harmony.”