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Billy Kelleher: We need vaccine certificates if we are to return to any kind of normal

The Irish MEP argues that if we are ever to return to normal, we must consider the introduction of a vaccine certificate in line with our EU counterparts.

Billy Kelleher

AS VACCINES START being rolled out to the general population, and as cases continue to fall, though not as fast as hoped, attention is quickly turning to what life might look like when things ‘return to normal’.

Will we go back to commuting to cities and working in our offices? Will we be as keen to squeeze into nightclubs like sardines on a Saturday night, and will we be able to travel abroad to see our family and friends, or just to have a holiday?

It is this final question that remains very much up in the air. Covid-19 is going to be with us for a long time to come.

While Ireland will vaccinate the vast majority of its adults in 2021, there will be many countries, upwards of 100 I suspect, that will be a year or two behind us. How will that affect travel? What will airlines and other governments do?

That’s why a debate has started in Europe, as well as here in Ireland, about Covid Vaccine Certificates. This is an important debate. It needs to be mature yet also fast.

No time to waste

Outside of a pandemic, it’s a debate that would rightly take place over a period of years. Sadly, we simply don’t have the luxury of time for a deep, ideological debate.

Other countries are moving ahead quite quickly. Even some of our EU colleagues are formulating their own schemes and working out how they will operate globally.

My reason for supporting an internationally recognisable, interoperable vaccine certificate is to allow for travel and to avoid the need to quarantine upon arrival into another country.

My support has nothing to do with restricting the rights of Irish people to go about their business in Ireland. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has rightly raised the red flag about such a certificate being used to restrict access to services or facilities in Ireland. It cannot and should not be used to force anyone to get vaccinated if they chose not to.

Late last year, Qantas, the Australian airline, announced that only vaccinated people would be able to book seats on their planes. That leaves us with a dilemma. If Irish people want to fly to Australia using that airline then they need a way of proving they have been vaccinated.

Quarantine vs vaccinations

Crucially some countries may force people to either quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, at their own cost, or prove they have been vaccinated. People will have a choice to make; just as people must have a choice about whether they take the vaccine or not.

While many in Ireland like to think we can set our own rules; we can’t in all cases. Businesses and other countries will have to take decisions in the best interest of their business or their citizens, just as Ireland and Irish businesses must do, and will enforce these rules on everyone wanting to work with them or visit. We, therefore, need to decide if, and how, we react.

There are, however, a number of guiding principles that must be applied across the EU when it comes to Vaccine Certificates:

1. Vaccination certification should not lead to an indirect vaccination obligation;

2. All data should be protected, in line with the EU rules on data protection and especially the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679;

3. National centralised vaccination databases should not be shared;

4. All EU airports, railway and bus stations as well as ports should apply common criteria and procedures for the recognition of vaccination certificates and tests results.

Now is not the time for sticking our heads in the sand and hoping someone else will make this decision for us.

The Government, through the Department of Justice, must start work on developing a system, ideally in coordination with our European neighbours that is safe, non-discriminatory and globally recognised.

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Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fáil, is an MEP for Ireland South.

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