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Attorney General writes to Health Minister with concerns over plans to extend hotel quarantine to more countries

Paul Gallagher has written to Stephen Donnelly about the plans.

A Defence Forces vehicle waiting to escort a bus with passengers from high-risk countries at Dublin Airport last week.
A Defence Forces vehicle waiting to escort a bus with passengers from high-risk countries at Dublin Airport last week.
Image: Leah Farrell

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL has written to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly over plans to expand the current number of countries on Ireland’s mandatory quarantine list. 

It is understood Paul Gallagher raised concerns over the the legality of this plan. 

It was reported yesterday that the US and a number of EU countries – including France, Germany and Italy – were recommended for inclusion in Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine list in advice given to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly by NPHET.

More than 40 additional countries may be added to the list – doubling its current size.

There are now 33 countries on the government’s list of ‘high-risk’ Category 2 countries.

A total of 13 of these countries/territories were added by Donnelly on 26 February.

Countries are recommended for inclusion if a variant of concern is circulating or if Covid rates in the community are very high. 

A final decision on the new countries’ inclusion has not yet been made.

“Any addition to the list of category 2 countries requires consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs by the Minister for Health,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday.

“That has not happened to date.”

There were understood to be serious concerns raised within government that the addition of the US and the additional European countries could pose diplomatic issues and may go against EU freedom of movement rights.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is understood to have cut the discussion off at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, with sources stating that Minister Coveney and some within his department were “furious” the recommendation had made it to the media before any consultation.

A source said the letter from the Attorney General is “to the point” and “very clear” in expressing concerns that health officials did not follow processes set down in the legislation.

Sources state that health officials did not appear to “do their homework” before issuing the written advice.

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It is understood their are very serious concerns that European treaty rights and human rights matters have not been fully considered, and if such countries were added to the list it would only result in a challenge in the courts that would ultimately prevail.

While the Taoiseach told reporters yesterday that there will be additions made to the list, he did not go so far as stating that it would include the likes of the US or EU countries.

The hotel quarantine system, which has been in the works for months, finally went live early last Friday morning.

The cost for an incoming passenger coming from one of the designated states is €1,875 for 12 nights, with lower rates for children. 

- Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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