Leo Varadkar and Arlene Foster meet to discuss a cross-border approach to the fight against coronaviruses.
With mass rallies, including sporting events and concerts which will be banned across the UK starting next weekend, pressure was mounting on Northern Irish leaders to close schools in line with the movement south of the border.
The Taoiseach janitor and the Prime Minister meet in Armagh as part of a larger delegation including the Irish chief medical officer, who has acted on Irish and European models.
The meeting comes as the leader of the Catholic church in Ireland called on Northern Irish leaders to close all schools. He told Stormont’s education minister Peter Weir of the Union Democratic Party that “we have to fight this virus together”.
Also at the meeting are Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, Minister of Health, Simon Harris, and his Stormont counterpart, Robin Swann.
They meet within the framework of the North-South ministerial council created within the framework of the Good Friday agreement to promote consultation and cooperation across the island.
The Stormont assembly stood firm on the British approach on Thursday when Varadkar announced, in an address to the Washington nation, that the schools would close.
Discrepancies emerged between Foster and his deputy prime minister Michelle O’Neill on Friday.
O’Neill, who is also the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, called for the schools to be closed. “Now is the time to act” and Northern Ireland should “err on the side of caution”, she said.
Arriving in Armagh for the meeting, Varadkar said the issue was complicated due to the two jurisdictions but the virus did not respect borders while O’Neill said the meeting was “about people, not politics ”
On Friday, nine new cases of coronavirus were registered in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 29. Three were community-based transmissions, the first recorded.
Twenty new cases have been reported in the republic, the second highest daily jump bringing the total to 90.
Harris said Friday that he spoke to British Health Secretary Matt Hancock before the schools were announced.
More details on Ireland’s emergency plan were released on Saturday. He is looking for 10,000 beds for his worst case scenario with the possibility of using hotel rooms, university residences and military sites.
Dublin is also planning to release hundreds of prisoners as the Irish prison service warns of the “significant challenges” it faces in containing the spread of the virus.