The Government shows an unwillingness to plan for the reopening of travel

What the Cabinet proposes next Tuesday will come too late for thousands of aviation staff and many more in tourism and travel

An unwillingness to plan to reopen is the greatest cause of frustration for airlines, airports and aviation  workers, who fear they will soon join the 4,000 or so already gone from the industry. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

An unwillingness to plan to reopen is the greatest cause of frustration for airlines, airports and aviation workers, who fear they will soon join the 4,000 or so already gone from the industry. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

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After months of detours, circumstances have finally dragged the Government to the bank of the Rubicon. Next Tuesday the Cabinet will discuss plans to reopen international travel following 14 months of stringent controls on people entering and leaving the State.

The discussion will follow a week in which Aer Lingus and trade unions blamed Government restrictions for closing its base at Shannon Airport, with the possible loss of 126 jobs.

Elsewhere, the head of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, an Irishman and regarded as one of aviation’s most influential figures, called the Republic’s mandatory health quarantine “repressive”.

Gareth Lambe, Facebook’s Irish vice-president, suggested the measure was “discriminatory”, while Ryanair chief, Michael O’Leary dismissed it as “insane”.

The quarantine, forcing travellers from the US, Belgium, France, Italy and other nations to spend two weeks isolated in hotels at their own expense, is all those things.

Equally, it can be circumvented and was always redundant. In the first quarter of the year just 3,000 people a day moved – both ways – through Irish airports, against a daily average of 104,000 in 2019. So there was almost nobody arriving here.

It has to go, but flashpoint and all as it is, the quarantine only illustrates bigger problems: the Government’s unwillingness to plan for reopening travel, and its insistence on persisting with measures that are out of proportion to the risks we now face.

That unwillingness to plan is the greatest cause of frustration for airlines, airports and the workers, who fear they will soon join the 4,000 or so already gone from the industry.

Government should have begun planning last autumn when it was clear that vaccines would be available this year. Even if it had to slow those plans’ implementation, that would still have allowed the industry to focus on reopening flights, saving jobs in the process.

Instead, whatever Cabinet proposes on Tuesday will come too late for thousands of aviation employees, and many more in tourism and travel, who had been hoping to return to work this year. There really can be no going back.

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