The Government had difficulty implementing a Covid-19 testing system at Irish airports because it was getting different advice, the Dáil has been told.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan insisted that the Government's priority was the safe return and operation of domestic and international travel in order to protect jobs and connectivity.
He said there was a “critical imperative to retain international connectivity through Shannon and Cork” airports, which had significant regional and international roles and “particular, real acute problems”.
He acknowledged that Germany was looking for Ireland “to provide advance testing in advance of us flying into their country”.
He said the implementation of a testing system at Irish airports “has been difficult because we’ve been getting different advices”.
“The health service has given us advice that they didn’t want testing at airports; that there were difficulties that came with that.”
He said Ireland supported the European Commission proposal for a traffic-light system of green, amber and red listed countries which would be decided on October 13th at an EU council meeting.
Mr Ryan was speaking during a Dáil debate on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation sector. The Government was sharply criticised over a failure to implement a testing system at airports and to provide specific supports for workers.
Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said the aviation sector employed 140,000 people and was worth €8.9 billion to the economy.
He said other EU countries had taken equity stakes in airlines. Germany had taken a 20 per cent stake in Lufthansa for €9 billion, and Italy had also invested. He asked if the Government would do the same for Aer Lingus “to shore it up”.
Mr O’Rourke also said that “six months into the pandemic it’s shameful that we still have no testing capabilities in our airports or even the most basic temperature screening of arriving passengers”.
“People fill in a form and they’re on their way. Literally. You won’t find a less restrictive process anywhere in the world these days.”
Labour transport spokesman Duncan Smith referred to Germany putting restrictions in place for passengers from Ireland, and said that anyone flying to Germany could get a test at a German airport.
He said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly had said at the start of August that the Government was working on a testing system but that was almost two months ago.
The Dublin Fingal TD added that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said there should be pre-departure screening and testing but this would not happen soon. And six months into the pandemic “there’s still no real light at the end of the tunnel”.
Mr Ryan acknowledged that testing at airports was critical, and they had to make it easy for people to travel. Ireland backed the European approach because it provided for reciprocal arrangements.
He said there were considerable general supports in place for aviation, including the wage subsidy scheme, low-cost loans, grants and the establishment of an aviation taskforce.