Irish Sea ferry firms call for reopening of Irish-UK travel

Time needed to prepare for resumption of movement, say Stena Line and Irish Ferries

 Stena Line provided figures showing that passenger numbers were down 86% between January and April compared with the same period in 2019.

Stena Line provided figures showing that passenger numbers were down 86% between January and April compared with the same period in 2019.

 

Ferry operators Irish Ferries and Stena Line have called for the reopening of the Common Travel Area, the free travel zone between Ireland and Britain, at the earliest opportunity.

The two main Irish Sea ferry companies have urged the Government to look at permitting unrestricted travel between the two islands. The call comes as Covid-19 infections remain low in Ireland and the United Kingdom, with vaccination programmes proceeding in both jurisdictions.

The Government requires passengers arriving from Britain to have a negative PCR \[evaluation performed to detect coronavirus genetic material] Covid-19 test on arrival and to quarantine for 14 days. No such restrictions are in place in the UK.

The ferry companies have welcomed comments from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar who has said reopening the travel area during the summer months would be “a first step” in resuming international movement in July or August.

“There is now a real need to focus on solving some of the economic impacts of the pandemic and an obvious starting point are the hard-hit tourist, hospitality and travel sectors,” said Paul Grant, trade director for the Irish Sea at Stena Line.

Managing director of Irish Ferries Andrew Sheen said the Government needed to “eliminate the discrepancies and loopholes on travel restrictions on the island”.

Call for clarity

Both ferry operators noted low-infection rates and rollout of the vaccines as reasons to start planning a reopening of travel. They said time is needed to prepare for the resumption.

“Urgent clarity is needed regarding dates so that the ferry companies can ensure they are ready from an operational perspective,” said the companies in a rare joint statement.

The pandemic has affected the ferry business badly. Stena Line provided figures showing that passenger numbers were down 86 per cent between January and April compared with the same period in 2019.

Just over 30 per cent of the Irish population aged 16 or over, or 1.66 million people have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while almost 12 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

In the UK, 45 per cent of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 23.8 per cent have have been fully vaccinated.