Covid-19: ‘Government should subsidise’ private airport tests for Christmas travellers

Labour TD tells Dáil €189 cost of tests is ‘pretty prohibitive’ for many Irish abroad on low pay

Dublin Airport is ‘undercutting all of the other airports’ because of economies of scale, the Dáil was told

Dublin Airport is ‘undercutting all of the other airports’ because of economies of scale, the Dáil was told

 

The Government should consider subsidising Covid-19 tests for passengers returning home to Ireland at Christmas, the Dáil has been told.

Labour transport spokesman Duncan Smith said testing is being provided by a private company and is “pretty prohibitive” at up to €200.

“We are going to have an awful lot of people who are in low paid work abroad,” coming home, he said.

“We are going to have essential workers taking advantage of hopefully affordable flights who will genuinely be put off for price reasons getting a test on arrival.”

“Cost cannot be an inhibitor of getting a test,” he said as he warned that many people may say “I can’t afford a €189 test, I’m just going to go and take my chances.”

Mr Smith was speaking during a Dáil debate on aviation policy and regional airports in the wake of the Government decision to allow Covid-19 testing within days for passengers passing through Dublin Airport.

The Cabinet has also agreed that arrivals from EU “red” countries from midnight on November 29th will not have to restrict their movements for the full 14 days if they produce a negative test at least five days after their arrival.

The Government said it did not want to put extra pressure on the health system and testing, and Minister of State Hildegarde Naugthon confirmed testing would have to be done on a private basis on a “user pays” basis.

Appealing to the Government to consider subsidising tests for people arriving and departing in the month of December, Mr Smith said “That could be done pretty easily. The cost wouldn’t be too exorbitant.”

He also backed a call by Sinn Féin enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly for hundreds of Aer Lingus workers to receive retrospective payment for short-term working for the period from March to August when the company was in receipt of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).

Ms O’Reilly said nine months on the workers have not received the payment and it had left families “on the absolute brink”.

She said “they’re not just hovering above the poverty line, they’re dipping below it in many instances”, addingfamilies had reached the limits of any credit they had.

Ms O’Reilly called on Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to speak to the Minister for Social Protection and have her instruct the Intreo offices to make that payment, which, she said, the workers were entitled to.

Introducing the debate, Independent TD Michael McNamara said that “effectively, we have an aviation policy at the moment which is a free-for-all”.

He said, however, that free market economics did not always work and the State should set the parameters.

The Clare TD said Dublin Airport is “undercutting all of the other airports because of economies of scale. “It does that to the detriment of other airports but, equally, to the detriment sometimes of people who live near Dublin Airport because it does not necessarily make sense for Dublin Airport to have all flights in the country flying in and out of it.”

Mr Ryan agreed that “even with these Covid restrictions we all know there is that imbalance. “We are seeing huge development on the east coast” but no corresponding development in the west.

Mr Ryan said he wanted to work with all parties to develop better regional balance and outlined the funding the Government approved for an additional support package of almost €50 million to assist regional and Dublin airports, bringing total aid to €80 million.

He said Shannon airport earlier this year was allocated €6.1 million to complete a hold baggage security programme, while €21. 5 million was allocated for Cork and Shannon that will provide capital funding to allow Cork progress its runway and Shannon to complete security projects.

A study will be done to assess the potential for a light rail link from Shannon airport and Shannon town to the Ennis-Limerick rail line, the Dáil heard.

Mr McNamara expressed concern the €6.1 million was subject to EU approval. He said State aid restrictions had been suspended because of the pandemic and he wondered if this was a delaying tactic.