Minister says 9,000 fines issued for Covid-19 rule breaches

SF tells Dáil that ‘Micheál and Leo show’ having an impact on public’s mental health

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said 300 fines for non-essential travel had been issued. File photograph: Collins

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said 300 fines for non-essential travel had been issued. File photograph: Collins

 

It is the Government’s “firm hope” that it will be able to ease some of the regulations after reviewing Level 5 restrictions in April, according to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

But she asked people to abide by the restrictions until that point.

Speaking during a Dáil debate on legislation to introduce mandatory hotel quarantining for arriving passengers, Ms McEntee said 9,000 fixed penalties had been issued for restriction breaches. These included 300 fines of €500 for international travel for non-essential reasons, which were issued in the past two to three weeks.

Later the Dáil passed the legislation imposing mandatory quarantining which will affect at least 20 countries by 131 to 11 votes. The Health (Amendment) Bill goes to the Seanad on Monday for debate and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was likely that additional countries will be added to the list of “Category 2” countries over the weekend and even more by the time the legislation goes to the President for his consideration and signature.

He added that the legislation could apply to any country in the world as he responded to repeated Opposition calls for hotel quarantining to be mandatory for everybody arriving in Ireland.

He had earlier that the Bill “specifically empowers” him to designate any additional countries on the advice of the chief medical officer. He said the 20 on the list are those advised to him by the officer. Mr Donnelly said the officer could recommend the inclusion of other states, where there is known to be sustained transmission of Covid-19, “or any variant of concern from which there is a high risk of importation of infection or contamination with Covid-19”.

The Minister will this afternoon meet acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn to discuss whether more countries should be added to the list where hotel isolation is required. Mr Donnelly said “this will be the most robust hotel-quarantining system in the EU” and close to the UK. He said they hoped to have as close to a two-island strategy as possible.

People arriving in the Republic and travelling on to Northern Ireland “are indeed included in hotel quarantining. And similarly those arriving in Ireland who transited through Northern Ireland are also covered by our hotel-quarantining system,” he said.

The Minister for Justice stressed that “it is absolutely essential that we remember what an extraordinary step this is” to introduce mandatory quarantining legislation and it “has to be done with the utmost care and the utmost attention to detail”.

She said they had to consider strongly the civil right and liberties of those we are asking to quarantine.

‘Micheál and Leo show’

Mr Donnelly was concluding the second-stage debate on the Health (Amendment) Bill in which the Government was warned that it needs to act collectively to get its messaging sorted and stop the “livestreaming” of its parliamentary party meetings, to ensure confidence in the vaccine rollout programme.

Sinn Féin TDs also warned that the “Micheál and Leo show” is having an impact on people’s mental health amid allegations that Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar compete “to get the message out first and then to undermine each other”.

Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú described the parliamentary party meetings as “like the making of sausages, far from pretty and nobody should know what happens inside them. And it really isn’t helping people when they’re getting multiple lines from multiple sources.”

His comments follow the weekly revelations from the meetings of the two larger Government parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, at which virulent criticism from TDs and Senators is leaked to media about the Covid-19 strategy and other parties in the Coalition.

The Louth TD said the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Health needed to collectively get their act together and get the messaging sorted, “because some of the difficulties that people have in relation to vaccine rollout is that they lack confidence”.

His Dublin Mid-West colleague, Mark Ward, was more blunt – hitting out at the “kite flying” from Government.

He said “this is not a game between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to get the message out first and then to undermine each other. The people are worn out with conflicting information and then off-the-cuff announcements. People’s mental health is being affected. There is a mass audience every time the Government announce new restrictions. This is not because people want to see the Micheál and Leo show but because of their interest in the impact the restrictions will have on their daily lives.”