‘Full steam ahead’ with European travel pass, Taoiseach says

Public health advice on travel and assessing EU-wide situation presents ‘only issue’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Brussels: ‘Connectivity is important for Ireland, so we have to weigh all of this up as we make decisions on Friday.’ Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AP

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Brussels: ‘Connectivity is important for Ireland, so we have to weigh all of this up as we make decisions on Friday.’ Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AP

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it is “full steam ahead” with the European digital green pass, which is expected to open up travel throughout the bloc.

Speaking to the Irish Times as he met with fellow EU leaders in Brussels, Mr Martin said the “only issue” for Ireland would arise in public health advice around travel and assessing the public health situation “in terms of travel across the European Union”.

Under plans set to be approved by EU leaders, tourists bearing the digital pass – which would attest that the holder has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, has a negative test result or has had the virus in the last six months – would be able to travel freely through the EU.

The certificate is expected to become operational on July 1st, but member states would have six weeks to implement it. In Ireland, the green pass is expected to be operated from mid-July, with Minister of State for Communications Ossian Smyth saying it could be rolled out within a week of the legislation being approved by the EU.

Mr Martin said the Government would receive advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team on Thursday and agree measures on travel, entertainment, sport and hospitality on Friday.

“We’ll analyse and monitor what’s happening in the United Kingdom, with the Indian government in particular, [and] take on board public health advice and make our decisions then,” the Taoiseach said.

“Covid has . . . really undermined travel for the last year and a bit. A lot of workers want to get back to work, pilots want to get back to work, cabin crews, everybody working on the ground in the airports, we understand that fully.

“Connectivity is important for Ireland, so we have to weigh all of this up as we make decisions on Friday, but I just want to let people know in the sector that we’re acutely aware of the pain that they’re going through and have been going through because of Covid-19. The same applies to hospitality, and the entertainment and the arts.

“Anything we open, we want to keep open, insofar as we possibly can.”

No delay

Meanwhile, Mr Smyth denied there will be any delays in the issuing of the digital green pass once it is approved, despite concerns arising from the recent cyberattack on the health service.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Mr Smyth said it was reasonable to speculate that there could be delays because HSE staff were engaged in returning vital systems, however, he said the data involved would come from the vaccination programme which had not been affected by the cyberattack.

A pilot programme for a digital cert had been in operation in Ireland since earlier this year, he added, so the pass could be rolled out within a week of the legislation being approved by the EU.

The digital cert would be a much more reliable system than what is in place now, with people arriving into Ireland required to present documentary evidence that they had a negative test result, Mr Smyth said. He warned that such documents could be fraudulent as they were issued by private companies and laboratories so it was not always possible to verify their veracity.

Mr Smyth said he expected Ireland to be “ahead of the pack” in the rollout of the pass because of the pilot programme: “We will be ready within a week of the EU legislation.”

The digital green pass would speed up registration times at airports and would involve a bar code, he said.

Control

If the plans are approved the Government will retain the authority to control the conditions for entry from overseas, and will monitor the containment of the virus and the rate of vaccination before the scheme begins

The certificates feature a public key that holds no personal data, but confirms that the holder is vaccinated, immune or tested negative. States hold these on national directories, which are exchanged through the commission’s system, so they can verify each other’s certs.

Once the European Commission has its system for EU-wide verification ready, member states will begin connecting to it. The commission does not say at what point exactly, after that, certificates will issue.

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