8 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Michael Fisher

A Monaghan expert on viral infections has welcomed the cross-border understanding reached by health officials on both sides of the border for dealing with coronavirus. RCSI Professor of International Health and Tropical Medicine Sam McConkey, who hails from Killeevan near Clones, said the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two Ministers of Health on Tuesday was “fantastic” news. He described it as a gradual step in coming together and building further co-operation.

Interviewed by Ivan Yates on Virgin Media’s Tonight Show, Professor McConkey said it would bring joined up thinking on a 32 County basis to dealing with the crisis. Asked about the effect it could have in border counties where measures against Covid-19 had initially differed in the North and in the Republic, he said it would help to prevent some of the confusion that arose such as when schools in Co. Monaghan were closed down (from March 14th) but those in Northern Ireland remained open for a further week.

The memorandum was formally agreed between the Irish Department of Health and its counterpart in Northern Ireland to underpin and strengthen North South co-operation on the public health response to the pandemic. The document, focuses on facilitating greater co-operation on areas such as:
public health messaging; research; programmes of behavioural change; ethics; evidence base/ modelling; public health and non-pharmaceutical measures. Other areas such as procurement of equipment will be considered where this is of mutual benefit.

The memorandum has been agreed by the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD and Stormont Minister for Health Robin Swann MLA, along with the two Chief Medical Officers, Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Michael McBride. The document has the support of the government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Minister Harris said: “There has been significant engagement between the Ministers, the Chief Medical Officers, and the departments throughout this pandemic. This memorandum will ensure timely and responsive communications and decisions in a fast-moving environment; that both Administrations will seek to adopt similar approaches, where it is appropriate to do so on the advice of respective Chief Medical Officers.”

“I want to thank my colleagues in Northern Ireland for their co-operation to date. This is a global pandemic. It knows no borders and we are all in this together. It’s essential we continue to do everything we can across the island to fight this pandemic.”

Minister Swann said: “I want to acknowledge the ongoing collaborative work between my Department, the Public Health Agency and Health and Social Care Board and their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland. This has been the case from day one and is a reflection of the long standing co-operation and relationships built up over many years.”

“We face a common challenge; facing that challenge will test us as never before. We will continue to do everything possible to work together for the best possible outcome.”

Welcoming the agreement, Dr Michael McBride said: “The memorandum reaffirms our commitment to work together for the benefit of the people we all serve. North South co-operation on protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens has been well established for many years. It is essential that we continue to work together as closely as possible at this time.”

Dr Tony Holohan said: “I am delighted that Dr Michael McBride and I have now finalised the memorandum with the full engagement and assistance of respective departments and Ministers. We have been working closely with our colleagues in Northern Ireland since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. This memorandum will formalise the close ongoing co-operation that has been taking place.”

The text of the Memorandum of Understanding can be found here.

Photo: RCSI Professor Sam McConkey

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