Pandemic and Brexit discussed as all-Ireland council meets after long hiatus – dpa international

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Northern Ireland voted against Brexit by 56-44% (compared with the overall 52-48 U.K vote for Brexit). Opposition to Brexit was higher along parts of Northern Ireland close to the border with Ireland, such as this road leading from Forkhill, a village in Northern Ireland, to Dundalk, a town a few miles across the border (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government hosted Northern Ireland’s regional administration on Friday in the first sitting in over three years of the island’s North South Ministerial Council.

Discussions centred on the novel coronavirus pandemic and Britain’s departure from the European Union, leaders said.

Speaking at a lunchtime press conference in Dublin Castle, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said a “critical phase” lies ahead in talks between Britain and the EU, with failure threatening to stymie movement across the border between Ireland, an EU member-state, and Northern Ireland, which is British-ruled.

“We don’t want to see trade barriers, either north-south, or east-west,” said Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based regional administration.

Foster pushed for further discussions on handling the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,319 people and infected 32,000 across the island, according to official tallies.

Arrivals in the Republic of Ireland from most countries, Britain included, are expected to self-isolate for 14 days. Arrivals from 58 countries, the Republic of Ireland included, can enter Britain without having to self-isolate.

But with the land border left open between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, said travel “anomalies” need to be “ironed out.”

The North South Ministerial Council was set up after the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which largely ended three decades of deadly conflict in Northern Ireland.

Disagreements between Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party, which wants Northern Ireland to remain British-ruled, and O’Neill’s Sinn Fein, which wants an all-Ireland state, saw the Belfast administration suspended from early 2017 until January, meaning the north-south council could not meet.

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