THE UK is reportedly set to offer Ireland 3.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses are part of an effort to help lift lockdown in Northern Ireland.
According to a report in the Sunday Times, “outline discussions” on the proposal have taken place between UK foreign minister Dominic Raab, Brexit adviser and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis.
However, such a plan could ramp up tensions between the UK and the European Union, with the two sides already at loggerheads over the distribution of vaccines in the bloc.
Europe has been slow to administer jabs but while a slowdown in production of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been cited as a cause, the EU was slow in signing an agreement with the pharmaceutical giant to receive doses of the vaccine in a move that has left them at the back of the queue.
Any plans for the sharing of vaccines with Ireland would have the backing of DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster who has previously expressed her belief that the UK government should share spare jabs.
She is thought to have recommended such a plan to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh earlier this month.
Despite this promising development, however, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden expressed doubt over the reported plans, telling Sky News that the UK does not "currently have a surplus" of jabs.
He told 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."
The Republic currently lags behind Northern Ireland when it comes to administering vaccines.
As of Friday, 825,310 jabs had been administered in Northern Ireland compared with just 732,678 doses in the Republic as of last Wednesday.
Despite the slow rollout in the Republic, AstraZeneca has pledged to provide a “large volume” of vaccines to Ireland with 100,000 jabs set to arrive in the Republic over the coming weeks after the pharmaceutical firm managed to iron out “manufacturing problems.”
The Republic is in line to receive 827,000 jabs before the end of the first quarter of the year.