Lucrative Dublin run for taxi drivers as quarantine dodgers fly to Belfast

‘I’d be averaging four times a week down to Dublin,’ says taxi driver at airport

‘Passengers arriving into Belfast City on the first flight of the day from Heathrow on Thursday and who spoke to The Irish Times all had essential reasons for their travel.’ Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

‘Passengers arriving into Belfast City on the first flight of the day from Heathrow on Thursday and who spoke to The Irish Times all had essential reasons for their travel.’ Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

 

The taxi drivers waiting outside Belfast City Airport reckon they can spot the quarantine dodgers instantly.

“They want to go straight to the train station or bus station. When they say it, you can tell right away,” one driver explains.

They take passengers from the Belfast airport to Dublin several times a week – the lucrative “Dublin run” – and point out that they were even busier at Christmas. Another driver shows me the automatic token on his windshield, for the tolls on the M1 on the way to Dublin.

“I’d be averaging four times a week down to Dublin. If you’ve got four people in a taxi, that makes more sense than the bus or the train, and I’d prefer to get their money than have it go to the bus company,” he says.

“I had a man who was going to Drogheda and we got stopped by the guards [Garda], and he was curled down in the back, terrified he would get arrested,” adds another. “I’ve been stopped a couple of times by the guards, but they don’t mind us because we’re just doing our job.”

The porous nature of the Border – and the different approaches to managing Covid-19 on either side – has been one of the constant challenges of the pandemic, not least when it comes to international travel.

With a 14-day quarantine period – whether at home or in a hotel – required for international arrivals to the South, there have been concerns that people would seek to circumvent this by flying into the North, and then travelling into the Republic.

In Northern Ireland, the rules are different; while quarantine regulations apply for those arriving from outside the Common Travel Area, there is no requirement to quarantine for journeys within it – for example, from Britain to the North.

Arrivals

At George Best Belfast City Airport, there are about eight arrivals a day, all from UK destinations, with a similar number at Belfast International.

Passengers arriving into Belfast City on the first flight of the day from London Heathrow on Thursday and who spoke to The Irish Times all had essential reasons for their travel, which included family commitments, business requirements and study within Northern Ireland.

Yet fewer passengers has meant fewer taxi fares; at the taxi rank at Belfast City, the drivers are unwilling to be identified in case it damages their livelihood, which they explain has already been badly hit by Covid.

If anything, says one driver, they would prefer more trips to Dublin, and estimate that only a “handful” of people on each flight are heading to the South.

“Most of the people I’ve had have been coming home to their ma or da who’s maybe in their 80s, and needs looking after. They all seem to have good reasons. I think the system’s flawed,” explains another driver, who adds that he has a regular customer who works between Dublin and London.

“The PCR [Covid] test result he needs can’t be guaranteed over the weekend, so he flies in through Belfast. People do what they have to do.”

For the drivers, it is all the same whatever side of the Border their passenger is headed for. “Everyone still has to put a mask on. They’re still coming on to this island, and if we’d locked the whole island down at the start we would have been better off.”

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