Irish citizens abroad express dismay at hotel quarantine rules
‘By the time I get home, my dad will be dead or I’ll be dead’
Fiona McFadden, a mother of two who is in cancer treatment in Belgium: “I just feel I’ve been left in the lurch by Ireland.”
Irish citizens abroad have expressed dismay at the imposition of hotel quarantine requirements, which have upended the lives of people who travel for study or work and have caring responsibilities in Ireland.
“I’m just so sad. I just feel I’ve been left in the lurch by Ireland,” said Fiona McFadden, who is in cancer treatment in Belgium, describing herself as “weepy” and “homesick”.
“My father has advanced dementia and my mother has been caring for him alone,” she explained.
“I’ve been dying to go back. I was going to go home for Christmas but I decided it was irresponsible so I stayed here. My family were all nervous . . . Nobody wanted us to come home. It was a terrible feeling.”
The addition of closeby European countries including Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg has hit communities of Irish people who normally travel regularly to and from the island for work and family responsibilities, a situation facilitated by short-hop flights.
Covid-19 has sharply disrupted this way of life: in McFadden’s group of five close friends who all live abroad, two experienced the death of a parent during the pandemic, and neither could visit while their parent was ill or attend the funerals. The imposition of quarantine has dashed hopes of a change just when people thought things might get better.
“I’m in cancer treatment in Belgium. That’s an extra added element for my family and for me. It’s hard to be away from home in that scenario, you know? With no prospects really,” McFadden said. “When is it going to end? Will I ever get home? By the time I get home my dad will be dead, or I’ll be dead.”
Inside Politics / covid vaccine / April 7th
Many of those spoken to by The Irish Times were already vaccinated or due to receive a jab. However, this offers no exemption from quarantine, which is currently restricted to a handful of key professions including diplomats, MEPs, truck drivers, airline pilots and air crew when travelling in the course of their work.
Many of those who spoke felt that travel was being conflated with going on holiday, and described deep worry at being cut off due to the mass cancellation of flights.
“I am absolutely devastated,” said Caroline Mantl, a lawyer working for an international organisation in Brussels who usually travels regularly to care for her elderly mother, and is worried she may get ill.
“I brought her over here in March last year and she stayed until June. I haven’t seen her since. I’m an only child, my father is dead, she lives alone in the country,” Mantl explained.
“There’s this island mentality in Ireland that they think everyone who takes a plane is going on holidays somewhere. For me, taking a plane is normally going to see family. The Irish emigrants have been completely forgotten in this,” Mantl said.
Mantl is shortly due to be vaccinated in Belgium and her mother is already vaccinated, but said the requirement to spend 10 days in quarantine put travel to Ireland out of reach because she has two children and a full-time job.
Sarah Ironside, who works in the European Commission, cancelled plans to take her children to the family home in west Clare and help her sister sort through their late mother’s belongings, an overdue task.
“If the Government had done this when Australia and New Zealand were doing it, you’d have seen sense in keeping the virus out,” Ironside said. “But we’re at a stage now where vaccinations are really ramping up everywhere, and now I feel a bit kind of abandoned and let down.” She is due for her second vaccination in three weeks’ time.
The quarantine has also hit Irish students attending universities abroad. Siobhán Ní Ghuairim is studying in France, a compulsory component of her course.
“For me, this trip wasn’t a luxury or a holiday. It was simply part of my education plan,” she said. “I think people think that we are all on a sun holiday when in fact I’ve had a 6pm curfew since I got here as well as full weekend lockdown for the majority of the time,” she said.
“I think students cannot be expected to cover this surprise cost. We got a week’s notice . . . Nobody knows what to do.”
On Monday night, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris indicated a plan was being developed to ensure the State would cover the cost of mandatory hotel quarantine for returning Erasmus students but not necessarily for other students.