Passenger data not shared between Dublin and Belfast despite Covid deal

Those who use Belfast as a gateway into this State are not being tracked or monitored

A Garda Covid-19 checkpoint at the entrance to  Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

A Garda Covid-19 checkpoint at the entrance to Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

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Passengers arriving from Britain into Irish airports and ports with the aim of travelling to Northern Ireland remain under no legal obligation to provide residence addresses or contact numbers, 10 months after authorities on both sides of the Border agreed to share data on Covid-19.

The Irish Government confirmed on Sunday that there is no data sharing between Dublin and Belfast on passengers arriving into one jurisdiction and travelling on to the other jurisdiction, nor is there any legal obligation on non-residents to fill out passenger locator forms.

Consequently, there is no means of tracking or monitoring Irish passengers who use Belfast as a gateway into this State, or Northern Ireland and British passengers who use Dublin as a gateway or back door to return to their places of residence.

The only concession that has been made is an interim agreement allowing Irish officials to send texts to non-resident passengers who arrive into Dublin – and then travel to the North or on to Britain – to remind them to self-isolate. This information can only be forwarded to passengers who volunteer their contact details.

An agreement for both jurisdictions to share such data stems from a memorandum of understanding signed in April 2020 to strengthen North-South cooperation on the public health response to Covid-19.

A Department of Health representative said there have been regular engagements between Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and his Northern counterpart Robert Swann in recent weeks with a view to publication of a draft data-sharing agreement.

Locator forms

It is understood that discussions are ongoing and it is hoped regulations to give effect to data sharing can be introduced in a number of weeks. It would involve both jurisdictions using very similar passenger locator forms.

In a recent reply to a parliamentary question in the Dáil, Mr Donnelly said there was a commitment to finding a solution to this issue but signalled there were many legal obstacles.

“However, there are legal and data protection issues which must be addressed before a data-sharing agreement can be established, while ensuring Ireland complies with its GDPR obligations.”

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in a weekend interview that he regrets the Government opened up the country for Christmas, which was followed by a dramatic spread of the virus.

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