Over 30,000 holidaymakers used Dublin Airport before heavier fine imposed

Higher penalty of €2,000 introduced after Taoiseach told Dáil €500 ‘not sufficient disincentive’

A member of the defence forces escorts passengers from Terminal 1 arrivals hall at Dublin Airport as part of the State’s mandatory quarantine system. Photoggraph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A member of the defence forces escorts passengers from Terminal 1 arrivals hall at Dublin Airport as part of the State’s mandatory quarantine system. Photoggraph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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More than 30,000 people flew through Dublin Airport for holidays in the time between the Government flagged enhanced fines for non-essential travel and the heavier fines being enacted.

Arrivals data from the Department of Justice shows that in total, 33,760 residents or non-residents stated that a holiday was the main reason for their travel in the period February 8th to March 28th.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin first flagged the higher €2,000 fine for non-essential travel in the Dáil on February 10th, when he told the house “there is a sense that €500 is not a sufficient disincentive to travel abroad. That will be increased”.

However, the heavier fine only came into effect on April 12th. The data available from the Department of Justice, however, only covers the period up to March 28th, as the State’s Border Management Unit (BMU) was forced to stop gathering it due to the pressures placed on its staff by the implementation of Mandatory Hotel Quarantine (MHQ). In all likelihood, the figures would be slightly higher when the full period is taken into account.

Popular reasons

The €2,000 fine applies to people travelling to a port or airport without a reasonable excuse rather than from a port or airport. However, it can be assumed most of the holiday arrivals contained in this data also travelled to an Irish port or airport at some point on their journey.

The Department of Justice data shows the most popular reasons cited for travel across almost 80,000 arrivals into the State from February 8th to March 28th. This consists of 46,382 residents and 33,316 non-residents.

While the high level of holidaymaking – 27,325 residents and 6,435 non-residents – indicates that a significant percentage of the travel might be seen as discretionary, many travellers cited more pressing reasons for travel.

Among residents flying into the airport, 10,073 people cited medical reasons, a funeral or a sick relative as the reason for their travel. For non-residents, transferring through the airport (6,012) to another destination or transiting to Northern Ireland (5,280) were the most often-cited reasons for travel after holidays.

The data indicates that many people arriving into the airport cited work as the reason for travel – some 7,838 residents and 4,867 non-residents. Some 2,840 non-residents also said they were relocating to either work or live here.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice confirmed due to the duties associated with its involvement in the mandatory hotel quarantine system, the BMU was no longer capturing the reasons for travel. It is, however, capturing whether travel is essential or non-essential, reversing an earlier discontinuation of this practice in February.

Mandatory quarantine

BMU staff are involved in the escorting and management of passengers required to quarantine from the point of landing in the State to immigration, including those who have pre-booked a place in mandatory quarantine or who are identified on arrival. The role will continue for the duration of the mandatory quarantine regime, the spokesman said.

The delay in the introduction of the fine, and the discontinuation of detailed data capture, were criticised by the opposition. “What’s the point of a higher fine if it’s delayed for weeks, and the reasons for travelling aren’t being gathered now? It’s not acceptable that this critical data is no longer being collected,” Labour Leader Alan Kelly said.

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said to reduce the risk of importing cases and variants, it is “essential that good data is collected from incoming passengers about their reasons for travel. It beggars belief that this is no longer happening due to staff shortages”.

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