Government approach to green list ‘cack-handed’ – McDonald

Micheál Martin says he is not ‘at odds’ with Varadkar over publication of green list

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has told Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the Government's decision to publish a green list of countries and territories considered safe to travel to and from is a "reckless policy." Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has insisted he is not at odds with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar over the publication of a “green list” of 15 countries considered safe to travel to and from.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of “a reckless policy on international travel, saying there was “absolute public confusion” and a lack of confidence about its “cack-handed” approach.

She told Mr Martin he was “at odds” with the Tánaiste. “The confusion between your two selves hardly adds to public confidence, and instead of managing the risks that we clearly face, you have pursued a reckless policy with effectively no checks and balances,” she told Mr Martin.

In response, Mr Martin said Sinn Féin in Stormont had “signed off on” a plan that allows travel between Northern Ireland and 59 countries. “We’re taking a much more conservative approach.”

“Testing and contact tracing remains the gold standard,” he continued, adding that the quick tracing of contacts was the key that would decide the State’s future ability to “stay on top of the virus”.

Perspective

Mr Martin said in the first 12 days of July last year, 1.469 million people arrived at Dublin Airport, compared with 134,000 people this month.

“I acknowledge the concerns about those arriving in the country but we need to keep it in perspective. There was a 91 per cent drop in travel this year,” he said.

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, the Taoiseach said: “I’m clear the safest thing is not to travel”, but people would “not have to restrict their movements” on their return if they travelled to one of the countries on the green list.

On Tuesday Mr Varadkar suggested if there was not a very clear message around the travel policy, “then we would be better off not having a green list”, just hours before the Cabinet agreed the 15-strong list.

Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach “you have put yourselves at odds with public health advice, which is for no international travel”.

She said people could travel with reduced risk but “ordinary people have been thrown under the bus”. People who have cancelled their holidays are potentially out of pocket and those who travel will travel uninsured, she said.

Not publishing a “red list” of unsafe countries was another problem when people were arriving from countries with much higher rates of Covid-19, she added.

“There is no isolation or proper form of quarantine and putting a [passenger locator] form online is not going address this.”

Ms McDonald also accused the Government of being “passive” in relation to an all-island approach.

She said the Taoiseach needed “to make the case very strongly of the absolute necessity for the correct island-wide approach to protect the health of our people” at the forthcoming North-South Ministerial Council meeting.

‘Synergy’ with NI

Mr Martin acknowledged “the roles and responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and that it’s connected to the advice in the UK”.

He pledged to “work towards achieving the maximum synergy between the Northern Ireland administration and our Government to suppress the virus”.

But he said “the reality of an all island approach is clearly challenging”.

Independent TD Michael McNamara said there was increased hostility towards tourists coming into the State about flouting laws, when those laws did not exist.

There is no legal requirement to quarantine for anyone coming into this country, he said, adding that the Government should state its policy clearly.

Mr Martin said there were complex legal issues involved and mandatory quarantining and contact tracing was the better approach.

He said Ireland had one of the “most restrictive” travel regimes in the world amid the pandemic.

Martin acknowledged there were Covid-19 cases linked to travel, but “the bigger threat involves how people behave”, including going to house parties, which was the fastest way to spread the virus.