People who travel to Tenerife for a dental appointment risk criminal prosecution, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said .
He was speaking after it emerged that at least 50 Irish people have either phoned or emailed the Dental Clinic Tenerife Sur requesting a letter or email of appointment. None turned up for their appointments.
They did so since the Government fines travellers €500 each, soon to be €2,000, for leaving the country without a “reasonable excuse”.
Speaking on the Late Late Show, Mr Harris said the gardai had changed its approach. “We warn people that they may be prosecuted if they carry on with their journey and we don’t regard a dentist appointment in Tenerife as being reasonable,” he said.
“We say, ‘that is not a reasonable grounds to travel and we are giving direction not to travel. If you continue on your journey. In effect then you may have committed two different offences which will be dealt with by summons.
“We have found the €500 fine is not the deterrent we thought it might be, but we have found that people have actually turned back rather than be prosecuted and in effect have a criminal record and risk imprisonment or a suspended sentence which is a far greater penalty than a €500 fixed penalty notice. We hope that will send a message in terms of non-essential international travel.”
Mr Harris said people who are travelling abroad for genuine medical reasons are still free to do so.
Staff at Dental Clinic Tenerife Sur in Tenerife say they are willing to pass on the details of Irish people who have looked for appointments there to the gardaí or the local police.
Receptionist Roberta Beccaris said they were puzzled why so many Irish people wished to attend their clinic. They do not specialise in "dental tourism" as some overseas dentists do and do not advertise in Ireland.
“The last two weeks have been crazy. They were calling constantly and sending emails,” she told The Irish Times.
“The only problem is that they don’t turn up. I receive 10 or 15 emails every day and today I have received even more.”
Ms Beccaris said they fielded a dozen calls or emails over the last two days, but they are not responding to them anymore.
She said the requests included a woman who said she was in severe pain from a toothache and sought an appointment for two weeks’ time on February 25th.
“If you are in pain, you are not coming to see the dentist in two weeks. It is just a way for them to travel. We are glad when tourists come, but this is not the right way,” she said.
“If they were real patients, we would be happy to help, but unfortunately they are not. It is causing us problems because we are giving appointments to people who don’t need our care. They are wasting our time.
“If we receive a request from the police we have all the information,” she said.
After she appeared on RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Claire Byrne Show, Ms Beccaris fielded several calls from Irish people still seeking to keep their appointments.
Two Irish people who were supposed to turn up for lunchtime appointments on Friday did not do so.
According to RTÉ's Prime Time programme, the National Immigration Bureau have noticed that on some flights to sunnier climes, between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of people travelling have dental appointments awaiting them.
The news that Irish people are using bogus employment letters or dental appointments to get around the Covid-19 restrictions has made the local newspaper in Tenerife.
The Diario de Avisos noted that an Irish traveller had been fined €500 for claiming that he was going to secure a security system in a Tenerife hotel.