Taoiseach open to adding more EU countries to mandatory quarantine regime

Martin insists Attorney General does not have ‘legal issues’ with the measure

Mr Martin said the public health advice to expand the list of countries has to be grounded within the legislative parameters. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Mr Martin said the public health advice to expand the list of countries has to be grounded within the legislative parameters. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that he’s open to adding more European Union countries to the mandatory hotel quarantine system.

Mr Martin said progress has been made in talks on expanding the regime as he insisted that the Attorney General Paul Gallagher does not have “legal issues” with the measure aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19 and variants of concern through foreign travel.

However, Mr Martin also said the public health advice to expand the list of countries “has to be grounded within the legislative parameters” and added: “that’s the only issue.”

There has been a row in Government over plans to expand the list including to EU countries such as France, Germany and Italy on the back of public health advice.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has raised concerns and Mr Gallagher has also written to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly flagging a number of issues with the proposals.

Mr Martin said that the “key issue in terms of mandatory hotel quarantine is to protect against variants and the Government will be deciding on that.”

He said that discussions are ongoing to work through issues but senior officials met yesterday and “progress was made”.

Mr Martin said he is “of course” open to adding more EU countries to the list in the context of public health advice and particularly if there is an issue with variants of concern.

He also said there will have to be communication with the EU on the issue.

At present Austria is the only EU Member State on a list dominated by countries in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

Mr Martin was asked to explain the Attorney General’s concerns about the expansion of the list of countries.

The Taoiseach denied Mr Gallagher has “legal issues” with the legislation or mandatory hotel quarantine.

He added: “The legislation is very much grounded in respect of variants of concern... the public health advice has to be grounded within the legislative parameters and that’s the only issue.”

Mr Martin said: “Those issues are being worked through. I don’t anticipate any great issues in relation to countries with variants.”

Asked about Mr Coveney’s concerns, Mr Martin said that the Cabinet had “unanimously agreed with mandatory hotel quarantine” and are “united” on protecting the country from further variants of the virus coming in through international travel “if at all possible”.

Concerns have been raised about the capacity of the current mandatory hotel quarantine system if the list is expanded further.

Mr Martin was asked about the possibility of a cap on the number of people arriving into the country.

He said: “We don’t necessarily have to make that decision now. I think people are referring to a decision in New Zealand in relation to putting a cap on its numbers – quotas, if you like.

“But we’re not at that stage yet.”