Nearly half of passengers arriving into Ireland were on holiday - Taoiseach

Visa-free travel effectively banned from South Africa and South America

Nearly half of all passengers arriving into Ireland on Tuesday were returning from a holiday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told a Fianna Fáil party meeting on Wednesday night.

He said that of 800 people arriving into Ireland, 542 were Irish and 397 had been on holidays.

Mr Martin told the meeting that legislation was being drafted to introduce new plans for quarantine of some travellers in hotels and others at home.

Hospital Report

He also said that the Government’s Covid-19 plan is for long-term suppression of the virus.


Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has directed that visa-free travel be effectively banned from South Africa and South America with allowances made only in exceptional circumstances.

Earlier in the Dáil, Mr Martin insisted measures to end non-essential international travel “will not take weeks” to implement but will be put in place “very quickly and very fast”.

He rejected criticism from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said the Government had presented a “half-plan” to deal with the risks of the Covid-19 virus being imported through international travel.

Ms McDonald said the Government proposal was “not mandatory quarantine but voluntary self-isolation” and the proposal “places all hope” in people’s decision to self-isolate.

However, Mr Martin said “we will do whatever it takes to keep the numbers down once we get the numbers down” and the case numbers were “falling very swiftly”.

“We have to get the numbers of hospitalisation down and numbers in [intensive care] down, and when we get them down we can never allow them go back up,” the Taoiseach said.

“That will mean prolonged suppressions of the virus in this country,” Mr Martin said, adding he did not want people coming to him after March 5th pleading special exemptions for different sectors.

Travel restrictions

The Government announced a series of quarantine and travel restrictions and tougher enforcement of existing regulations, including new checkpoints near the Border, but Ms McDonald called for mandatory quarantine for all international travel.

The Taoiseach said the numbers of Covid-19 cases “are way down and will remain very low given the additional measures introduced” on Tuesday.

“There will be no half measures from me as Taoiseach or from Government in ensuring a prolonged suppression of this virus,” he told the Dáil.

Mr Martin also confirmed to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy there had been preliminary discussions between Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the secretary of state of the UK, and between Mr Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson.

There had also been constructive discussions with Northern Ireland Executive officials in relation to the sharing of data on airline travel, he said.

Virus variants

Ms Murphy questioned the view expressed in a media interview by Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath that international travel was a low risk.

She said the South African variant of the virus “ didn’t arrive on a southeasterly. It arrived on a flight or a boat.”

But the Taoiseach said many of the people travelling were Irish people going on holidays: “Anyone travelling abroad is breaching Level 5 rules. That carries with it consequences and there will be an increase in fines for breaches from €100 to €500.”

He added that the requirement for a negative PCR test result had reduced the numbers arriving.

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil Ms McDonald claimed there was an “absence of leadership and plain common sense” in the Government’s plan to suppress the virus, which she said would take “weeks if not months to implement”.

The “biggest mess is in international travel,” she said, adding that without mandatory quarantine for all international travel, there is a risk the virus would spread.

“That to me is absolutely crazy,” she said. “For us to maintain maximum suppression, one behaviour that cannot be countenanced is unnecessary international travel, and the most powerful message that can come from Government at this time is universal quarantine.”

But the Taoiseach accused Ms McDonald of being “on the fence for a lot of this and you clung to the fence for as long as possible”. He pointed to a headline in the Daily Star on September 18th that read: “All the pubs should open says Mary Lou.”

“Whatever was fashionable, what was the trend, you followed,” he told her.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said no records existed of discussions between the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, and the British government about a strategy to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Donegal TD said he had made Freedom of Information requests to the Taoiseach’s department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the HSE seeking records of the talks between the Government and the North’s authorities.

He said there was no evidence of the existence of any documents relating to a zero-Covid-19 strategy in any of the responses he received.

“There is no transparency, no accountability, no urgency,” said Mr Pringle. “Just lies and spin.”

But the Taoiseach said it suited Mr Pringle to blame the Dublin Government, when he knew that one of the barriers to north-south alignment was a “political dimension”. He added that they were in alignment with the north now “on the majority of measures we are taking”, but they did not have full alignment on travel.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times