If Dublin used as ‘back door’ to Britain, it will be ‘sorted’ – Coveney

Passengers from Dubai use Dublin Airport to take advantage of travel exemptions

The special exemptions in Britain for passengers arriving from Ireland raise the risk that those transiting via Dublin Airport could pass off their journey as having begun in Ireland. Photograph: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

The special exemptions in Britain for passengers arriving from Ireland raise the risk that those transiting via Dublin Airport could pass off their journey as having begun in Ireland. Photograph: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

 

The use of Ireland as a “back door into Britain” for travellers from Dubai was “unacceptable” and direct flights from the emirate city may have to stop, an expert in infectious disease has warned.

Prof Kingston Mills, director of Trinity College’s Biomedical Sciences Institute, said he had strong views on the restrictions on travel into Ireland “and we’re not doing a good enough job. The fact that we are a back door into Britain for people coming in from Dubai is not acceptable. The risk is around Dublin Airport. It’s a tricky one to police. The only way it could be stopped is to stop flights from Dubai which is what the UK have done.”

Asked whether direct flights could continue with exceptions for categories of travellers, including Irish residents and family members of Irish residents, he said: “The trouble with exceptions to the rules is they increase and it soon becomes pointless having restrictions. You either have restrictions or you don’t.”

He was commenting after reports on Sunday that people unable to fly directly into Britain from locations such as Dubai and Portugal, because direct flights had been stopped due to Covid-19, were using Dublin Airport as a “back door”.

It has been suggested hundreds of passengers were booking flights to Ireland and, when they landed at Dublin, they were flying on to their final destination in Britain.

Any passenger who arrives in Britain from Ireland does not have to self-isolate for 10 days and also does not have to produce proof they passed a PCR test in the previous 72 hours.

The special exemptions in Britain for passengers arriving from Ireland raises the risk that those transiting via Dublin could pass off their journeys as having begun in Ireland. That would mean they could avail of the exemption from restrictions that applies in Britain to newly arrived passengers from Ireland.

Varying rules

Security sources believe different “back door routes” between countries are being availed of all over Europe depending on the restrictions on travel between passengers’ countries of departure and arrival. One described the situation as “unavoidable” because the rules on travel and bans on direct flights between countries varied from place to place. But they believe the British authorities are already able to establish, with minimal inquiries, where passengers arriving from Ireland had started their journeys.

Prof Sam McConkey, expert in infectious diseases at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, was less concerned about flights from the United Arab Emirates as long as the passengers bound for the UK did not leave Dublin Airport.

“If they are going on to England, they are bringing the disease onto England. As long as they are socially distant at the airport, which they are because the airports are deserted, and the aeroplanes themselves have quite good air-conditioning on them and they are only quarter full.

“So the issue of people transiting through Dublin from Dubai to England, it’s not such a big issue for us, as long as they are not coming out into the city to get coaches up to Belfast.”

If the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland was being abused by passengers using Dublin Airport as a “back door” into Britain, the Irish Government would “sort it out”, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said.

Mr Coveney told RTÉ on Sunday it was “important” to bear in mind that the World Health Organisation had said passengers transiting through airports in a particular country were not a Covid-19 risk to that country.

However, if international travellers destined for Britain were transiting through Dublin to take advantage of the “UK’s generosity towards Ireland in the context of the Common Travel Area”, then that issue would need to be addressed, he said.

“We would close that door by ensuring that there is communication with airlines and with the UK authorities to make sure they know exactly where people are coming from,” he said, which would ensure the British authorities knew where each passenger arriving in Britain had started their journey.