MEPs ask Government for Covid-19 quarantine exemption

Request comes in wake of resignation of former European commissioner Phil Hogan

MEPs have written to the Irish Government asking for a change in Coronavirus travel restrictions to allow them take tests rather than self-isolate for two weeks.

The request was made so that they could move more easily between Brussels, Strasbourg and Ireland as part of their work.

It comes in the wake of the resignation of former European commissioner Phil Hogan after he breached the rule that incoming travellers from Belgium must self-isolate for 14 days. In his defence, he argued that he believed he was free to move after having received a negative result in a Covid-19 test.

The leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party in the European Parliament wrote to Taoiseach Micheál Martin this week to ask for the quarantine rules to be reconsidered, suggesting that tests for Covid-19 before and after travel should be sufficient.


“This week, the European Parliament reconvened after the summer break and will sit weekly, in either Strasbourg or Brussels, until Christmas. To fully carry out our duties, we need to attend in person,” the letter from MEPs Billy Kelleher, Seán Kelly and Ciarán Cuffe reads, according to a copy seen by The Irish Times.

“Under the current guidelines, each of us must quarantine for two weeks upon our return to Ireland. This significantly restricts our activities when we are home.”

“We understand that guideline[s] for essential workers are under consideration, and hope that the needs of those in similar circumstance can be taken into consideration, whether it be long-distance Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers or Government Ministers.”

Heavy goods vehicle drivers who are in Ireland for their work are already exempt from needing to self-isolate, as are aircraft and ship crew.


Other EU countries, including Belgium, exclude additional categories of workers including MEPs from needing to observe certain Covid-19 restrictions when travelling due to their work.

The European Parliament has introduced a reimbursement scheme for MEPs who take tests to allow them to travel more easily to and from their home country, as some countries require testing before travel. MEPs are able to vote and speak in parliament committees remotely, but must be physically present to speak in plenary sessions.

“We believe pre and post travel Covid-19 testing would reduce the potential risk of infection and transmission of the virus and allow Irish MEPs to carry out their jobs fully,” the MEPs wrote.

Currently, government ministers must apply through the Taoiseach’s office for permission to travel internationally to represent Ireland in international events such as European summits. Travel is approved only in cases deemed essential, on the condition that the delegation that travels is small, takes precautions including repeated testing, and limits their movements to work-related activity.

Ireland went down a different path to the rest of the EU in its approach to Coronavirus restrictions, by imposing a blanket two-week self-isolation requirement apart from 10 ‘Green List’ countries.

Broadly, the rest of the EU has banned casual travel from outside the bloc and opened up travel within it, while national governments place specific additional restrictions on travellers from regions where the virus is actively spreading.

Belgium has been one of the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic, and among its neighbouring countries the Netherlands and Germany categorise the Brussels region as a high-risk area for the disease. The European Parliament has not sat in Strasbourg since March due to the pandemic.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times