Digital Covid cert system not responsible for ‘mangling’ Irish names, Minister says

System was tested with fadas and other characters before rollout, Ossian Smyth says

Director of Conradh na Gaeilge, Julian de Spáinn’s name was written as Julian de SpÃinn on his digital Covid certificate. Photograph: via Twitter

Director of Conradh na Gaeilge, Julian de Spáinn’s name was written as Julian de SpÃinn on his digital Covid certificate. Photograph: via Twitter

 

The system for generating digital Covid certificates is not responsible for some Irish names being “mangled”, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Minister of State Ossian Smyth, who is leading the certificate rollout, told an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday that the system being used to send out the certificates had been tested with fadas and other characters and had handled them when generating the certs.

“We did test this, we did test the Digital Covid Cert with names with fadas within them, and with apostrophes and everything we could think of that might break it, and it did work,” he said.

However, he said that the system in turn was receiving data from a wide variety of other sources, including raw information compiled by hospitals, general practitioners and pharmacies. “Sometimes, those systems do mangle the words,” he said.

“If we’re sent data from a system that has changed an Í into a Greek character, that’s what we received and it’s hard for us to correct it after the fact,” he said. “I’m satisfied our own system isn’t doing that.”

It comes after people with Irish names complained that they had received digital Covid certificates with badly corrupted spellings, or with no síneadh fada. It includes Julian de Spáinn, the director of Conradh na Gaeilge, the largest Irish language organisation in the State.

He tweeted on Wednesday that his name on the certificate was written as Julian de SpÃinn.

“We checked with the Department of Health before work began on the certificates to ensure people with Irish names would have them spelled correctly.

“This is obviously not the case. If I went to any airport with this, it would not be accepted nor should it. It is unacceptable and obviously they will have to issue new certificates,” he said on Wednesday.

The Oireachtas transport committee, which is taking a second day of hearings on the Digital Travel Certificate, also heard some 984,000 emails had been sent out containing the cert so far, with about 7,500 “bouncing back”.

In addition, about 350,000 certs have been sent in the post, of some 900,000. Between 50,000-70,000 certs are being printed for distribution by mail by the Revenue Commissioners every day.

The committee was also told that once the backlog of already vaccinated people is cleared, newly vaccinated people can expect to wait between one and four working days before receiving their certificate.

Barry Lowry, the Government’s chief information officer, said 25 different services have applied to issue certificates on the basis of Covid tests, a service which is being provided by private sector operators working under a system designed by the Government. Three have been accepted fully, with a further 25 partially accepted.

Call centre

A full call centre is to be launched to handle queries in relation to the digital Covid certificate from next Monday, the committee was told, which will be staffed under a contract with Accenture. Currently, an emergency call centre is operating with about 25-30 agents, who are employees of the Department of Social Welfare and the Revenue Commissioners.

The centre received about 4,000 calls on Tuesday, of which 1,200 were answered by an operator. Currently, it is not issuing “recovery” certs for people who have recovered from a Covid diagnosis, which is one of the criteria under which someone can obtain a cert. That will happen next Monday, and will take about five days once the request is logged.

The committee also heard that Aer Lingus is trialling a system to verify the digital Covid certificate as part of the online check-in process, with several members arguing that verification of the certificate needed to take place as early as possible in the process of travel to avoid queues and crowds building up in airports.

Asked about whether the “verifier app” – used by staff at airports to check QR codes on the certificates – could be used by the hospitality sector, Mr Smyth said there could be issues associated with this, including that it is not publicly available and only works on the Android operating system. There are also potential issues about what kind of data it stores, and if that relates to travel document information such as passports, he said.

Mr Lowry suggested a different version could be created for the hospitality sector.

Mr Smyth said again that GPs would have no role in providing proof that people had recovered from Covid for the purposes of obtaining a digital Covid certificate.