Covid-19 travel restrictions will not apply to people arriving from North
Ministers query practicality of quarantining people for 14 days at State facilities
Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan is part of the group of Ministers charged with devising recommendations for those travelling to Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
New restrictions on people travelling into the State will not apply to people arriving from Northern Ireland and are unlikely to include compulsory quarantine at State-run facilities, according to sources briefed on the ongoing discussions between Ministers on the issue.
While there is agreement in Government that quarantine requirements on incoming travellers need to be tightened significantly before the number of visitors starts to increase during the summer, Ministers and senior officials question the practicality of suggestions that all visitors should be quarantined for 14 days at State facilities, such as the Citywest Hotel.
Senior sources also say categorically that there will be no restrictions on visitors arriving from Northern Ireland, though they admit this will leave “the back door open”, in the words of one official.
“No matter what happens, you can’t check on the Border,” said another source.
Travellers from Great Britain would be free to enter the Republic through Northern Ireland without being asked to observe the 14-day quarantine, they conceded.
While there are plans to require visitors to declare their intended address and promise to remain there for 14 days, sources admit this will be impossible to police once visitor numbers increase over the summer.
Though the gardaí are likely to be given new powers to check up on whether visitors are observing the quarantine requirements, officials say they are unlikely to be used except in a small number of cases.
At present, providing contact details on arrival is voluntary and about one-third of passengers have decided against providing their details. It means they cannot be contacted to ensure they are complying with the 14-day self-isolation period which those arriving in the Republic are being asked to undertake.
Garda sources said if the current voluntary process was made compulsory under law, Garda members might have some enforcement role; perhaps at airports and ports.
However, they disputed reports on Monday that the Garda was about to be conferred with new powers to go to addresses and to check if people were quarantining.
The sources said there would be very strong resistance within the Garda to the idea but insisted the only reference to it they had seen was in the media.
On Tuesday, senior Garda officers held a teleconference with the Garda staff associations and told them Garda Headquarters knew nothing of any plan to give gardaí the power to call to homes and hotel rooms to check that people recently arrived in Ireland were quarantining.
“We don’t want these powers; it would be a terrible idea,” said one source. “Even checking a small percentage of passengers would be unworkable.”
At a recent meeting, the Cabinet discussed the need to tighten controls on incoming travellers and the Taoiseach asked a number of Ministers to form a group and return with recommendations.
It is understood the group includes the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, the Minister for Health Simon Harris, the Minister for Transport Shane Ross and the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, as well as the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe.
The Ministers, along with senior officials, met last week and it is understood that the Attorney General’s office has been asked to draft proposals to be discussed by the Ministers. It is expected that they will include new rules making it mandatory for travellers to inform the authorities where they will be staying, and making the 14-day quarantine mandatory.
However, there remain significant doubts within Government and also within the gardaí about the enforceability of new rules.
Informed sources say an uncertainty lies behind the reluctance to proceed with new restrictions – the Cabinet has yet to decide how open to international travel Ireland should be as Covid-19 restrictions are eased at home, and commercial and social life gradually restarts over the coming weeks.
“How open or closed is Ireland going to be? That’s just not clear yet,” said one senior official familiar with discussions in Government.