The European Commission is in contact with Irish authorities due to concerns over whether mandatory hotel quarantine is in line with EU law.
It comes after five EU member states were added to the ‘red list’ requiring arrivals to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine at the cost of €1,875 for 12 nights, with Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Italy now affected.
“The Commission is looking into these measures as there are some concerns in relation to the general principles of EU law, in particular proportionality and non-discrimination,” a Commission spokesman said.
“We are in contact with the Irish authorities and will ask them for clarifications on this matter and the criteria used to determine the designated countries.”
At the heart of the concerns is why the five countries were picked, and not others. They are not the five with the highest rates of infection according to the chart of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which shows Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands to be worse or similarly affected.
In addition, there are concerns about proportionality given the high cost to citizens, and questions over whether the same results could be achieved through other means.
“While quarantine and testing requirements are a national competence, nevertheless, when affecting citizens’ rights to free movement, such measures have to comply with general principles of EU law,” the Commission spokesman said.
It comes after the five countries concerned launched a diplomatic push against the measure, with Italian ambassador to Ireland Paolo Serpi describing it at “discriminatory” and calling for its immediate cancellation.
Speaking on Thursday night, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he will “make no apologies” to the European Commission or Italian ambassador to Ireland for introducing mandatory hotel quarantine and that he is “confident” the move is in compliance with EU law.
Mr Donnelly told RTÉ’s Prime Time programme, he was confident the mandatory hotel quarantine was successfully bringing down Covid-19 numbers while “picking up variant cases in the hotel” and described the system as “very robust”.
“I make no apologies to the commissioner, to the Italian ambassador or to anybody else for putting in place the measures that we believe, and our public health experts believe, are the right measures to keep people in this country safe,” he said.
“I’m confident it’s in compliance with Irish law, with EU law, we notified the commission, and indeed EU health ministers agreed that these kind of measures could be taken.”
“Asked if the commission was wrong to express concerns, Mr Donnelly said: “the priority here is not the Commission’s view. The priority here is that we protect the people in this country.”
In recent days ambassadors of the European Union countries placed on the ‘red list’, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg, made a joint appeal to the Government expressing concern at the move and highlighting its impact on their communities in Ireland.
In a message to the Italian community in Ireland posted on YouTube on Thursday, Italian ambassador Paolo Serpi denounced the step as “selective and discriminatory”.
“We believe that these measures are excessive and do serious, severe harm to our co-nationals and in particular to our communities here in Ireland, and we cannot accept this,” Mr Serpi said in the message.
He said that he has written a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly expressing hopes that the measure is “is revoked as soon as possible”.
“I also noted that our country Italy is undertaking a serious vaccination campaign and that in reality in Italy there exist at this moment the same variants that are hitting Ireland, there are not others,” Mr Serpi said.
“So measures that are in a way selective and discriminatory in Ireland towards communities, countries that are in the European Union, are measures that should be done with the utmost caution.”
In the message, the ambassador and calls on his fellow Italians to work together to “in the shortest time possible bring to an end these measures”.
The inclusion of EU countries on the mandatory hotel quarantine list has provoked a furious reaction from their communities in Ireland, who feel singled out and say the measures have disrupted their need to travel for work and family reasons.
In messages to The Irish Times, many questioned the rationale for placing some countries on the red list and not others, noting that EU countries with higher rates of infections had not been included.
It is currently not possible to make a reservation for hotel quarantine due to capacity concerns, and airlines have been asked to refuse passengers who do not have a booking.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.