Ireland ‘not aware’ of 3.7m dose vaccine sharing offer from UK

28 March 2021, 20:05 | Updated: 29 March 2021, 08:02

Reports suggested UK ministers are working up plans to share 3.7 million doses with Ireland
Reports suggested UK ministers are working up plans to share 3.7 million doses with Ireland. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Irish government is not aware of a vaccine sharing offer from the UK amid reports ministers are working up plans to share 3.7 million doses.

UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also made clear on Sunday that the UK does not "currently have a surplus" of vaccines, insisting his government's first priority was vaccinating its own population.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster has insisted the proposal is a "runner" and has pledged to continue to lobby Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prioritise Ireland when it comes to distributing spare vaccines.

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It comes after European Union leaders this week gave backing in principle to tougher vaccine export controls amid demands for reciprocity from countries where the bloc is exporting doses.

Reacting to the report in the Sunday Times, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said: "There isn't an offer that I'm aware of, or that the Government's aware of, from the UK.

"Of course, if there was we'd be very interested in talking to the British Government about that."

Mr Coveney told RTE: "Let's look at the actual numbers here in terms of what's likely and when.

"Currently, 55% of UK adults have received their first jab, less than 6% of adults in the UK have received their second jab, so there are tens of millions of people still to get their first jab in the UK.

"There may well be excess vaccines at some point in the future but I don't think we're realistically looking at that for many, many weeks yet."

Mrs Foster has raised the proposal with Mr Johnson in recent conversations.

She has expressed confidence it "hopefully will happen".

Also interviewed by RTE, she said sharing excess supply with the Irish Republic was important in respect of being good neighbours but also because it would have a practical impact in Northern Ireland in terms of the region's exit from lockdown.

"I think it is a runner," she said.

"When I'm next speaking to him (Mr Johnson) I'll be making that point again.

"I think it's important that we continue the conversation and I'll be listening very carefully to what our medical advisers are saying about the rollout of the vaccine in Northern Ireland, where it is in the Republic of Ireland and what that means for both jurisdictions."

The DUP leader added: "I think it's the right thing that should happen, I think it's a very practical thing to do and I think it should happen and hopefully it will."

Mr Dowden told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "Clearly, our first priority is ensuring we deliver vaccines in the United Kingdom.

"We clearly don't currently have a surplus of vaccines - should we get to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines we'd make decisions on the allocation of that surplus."