Mandatory hotel quarantine should ‘quietly’ lapse, Seanad hears

System could be ‘major inhibitor to recovery of aviation sector’

Calls have been made for the mandatory hotel quarantine system to “quietly” lapse after the three months “sunset clause” in the legislation underpinning it, following trenchant criticism in the Seanad.

Senators warned that the system has seriously damaged Ireland’s reputation with its EU partners and that it could be a major inhibitor to the recovery of the aviation sector.

The scheme came under attack during a debate on the implementation of the EU Digital Green Certificate, which would allow international travel within the EU for residents of member states who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Fine Gael Seanad leader Regina Doherty said Ireland was "dragged kicking and screaming by populism to mandatory hotel quarantining to alleviate the blame or responsibility of where we were" with the virus.

The former Cabinet minister said the system was introduced because of the significant impact of the UK variant of the virus but "we left the doors and windows open to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom while picking on other countries".

Ms Doherty said the number of exemptions far outweighed the number of rules and “we settled every single court case taken against us”.

She added that “we ended up having more holes in the system than there are in a bloody block of Swiss cheese”.

The system, which came into effect on March 26th, requires passengers arriving from or transiting through 71 listed countries including five EU member states - Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg - to quarantine in designated hotels.

The legislation underpinning hotel quarantining is due to lapse at the end of June after three months.

Ms Doherty called on Government to let the legislation “quietly” lapse with the three months’ sunset clause, to “accept that mistakes were made” and to “let mandatory hotel quarantining be a thing of the past”.

She added that “we will have to work incredibly hard to rebuild our reputation, which is damaged not just with the Commission, but with our EU counterparts”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said the quarantine system "has the capacity to be a really major inhibitor to the recovery of our aviation sector which employs 150,000 people".

The Clare Senator said no-one else in EU had mandatory quarantining to the same extent as Ireland.

He believed its introduction was a “rather hasty response to where public opinion was at in that particular week and public opinion changes very quickly when other fundamentals change”.

Warning that there is a “real and substantial threats” to connectivity in the Irish aviation system he said there has to be a plan for the recovery of the aviation sector running alongside the implementation of the EU Digital Green Certificate and not afterwards.

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne - who updated the House on the development of the Green Digital Certificate - said the Government is committed to the proposal, which he described as a "temporary pandemic measure lasting for 12 months".

He stressed that “once this proposal is enacted through regulation, it will be legally binding on the State from its enactment”.

The European Parliament and European Council have started negotiations on developing a framework for the system and these talks will continue for the next two weeks, he said.

The Department of Health in the meantime will develop the technical aspects to implement the certificate system, along with "supporting operational procedures, legal instruments and a communications campaign, as appropriate".

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers said it would be more appropriate and avoid confusion if the certificate was re-named the "EU Covid-19 Certificate" as had been suggested by the European Parliament.

And she called for the Government to ensure that testing should be available at an affordable rate so that cost would not be a barrier to anyone looking for a certificate.

Independent Senator Sharon Keoghan cautioned against the introduction of “any type of health passport, health database or ID card by stealth”.

Ms Keoghan said “history tells us to be careful about sleepwalking into a situation where we label some people as being clean and others as unclean or as potential vectors of disease”.