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Stephen Donnelly hits out at 'leaks' over possible additions to hotel quarantine list

It was reported this week that 43 countries could be added to the list.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Apr 1st 2021, 6:32 PM

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly says there is “significant” extra capacity available should Ireland add more countries to the mandatory hotel quarantine list, as he also hit out at “leaks” from the deliberation process.  

It was reported this week that 43 countries – including the US, France, Germany and other EU states – were recommended for inclusion on the list by public health officials.

A final decision on the new countries’ inclusion has not yet been made, but concerns have been raised about the recommendations by government figures and the Attorney General.

At present there are 33 countries from which people arriving here are required to quarantine in a hotel for almost a fortnight. 

As part of the legislation passed by the Dáil, additional countries can be added to this list by the Minister for Health “having been advised by CMO” and “after consulting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs”. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was reported to be privately “furious” about the proposals to add the 43 countries and this morning told Highland Radio that he did not agree with plans to add certain countries to the list.

“I don’t believe we should move ahead with adding a significant number [of countries to the list], particularly countries that have very large numbers of Irish citizens,” he said.

“Because don’t forget, this is not primarily about non-Irish people coming to Ireland on their holidays or for something else. This is primarily about Irish people coming home.”

Speaking this afternoon about the potential addition of other countries, Donnelly said that he has been speaking with Coveney about the proposals and that the pair will meet today to discuss this once more. 

He said this is the process as laid down in the legislation but he was critical that the deliberations were made public. 

“What makes it difficult is somebody believed it was okay to leak those countries, which makes it very, very difficult for government to do its job in terms of biosecurity measures against the importation of variants,” he said.

The idea that the countries under consideration would be leaked, right at the start of that process, we’d be compromising the ability of governments to do what is very important work in terms of fighting Covid. So it’s very frustrating, but nonetheless, Minister Coveney and I are in close and regular consultation and we’re moving through the issues.

Speaking earlier, Coveney explained that the original policy was introduced in order to protect the country from new variants of Covid-19, and claimed that Ireland already had “the most restrictive international travel regime anywhere in Europe”.

He further suggested that expanding the list of countries would raise concerns about the capacity of the current system to accommodate all of those who wanted to travel, particularly if countries added to the list had high numbers of Irish citizens.

“If you take France for example, there’s 20,000 Irish people living in France. Many of them would come home from the summer lots of them are students, and so an, that at the end of the term will need to come home…

“Is it reasonable to put those people for two weeks in a hotel if they have a home to go to where they could quarantine?”

dail 002 Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Capacity

Asked this afternoon whether there would be space in the hotels if 43 additional countries were added to the list, Donnelly said the contract with hotel group Tifco “allows for expansion with relatively short notice”. 

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He said one of the challenges is predicting what the demand for the rooms will be, accounting for the reduction in passengers arriving from particular countries once they are placed on the hotel quarantine list.

The minister said that, in the case of the UK, there were reductions of between 80% to 90% depending on the country. 

If we were to add a significant number of countries and we anticipated a significant increase in incoming travel then we work with the contractor Tifco to bring online more hotels. 

“The contract obviously doesn’t specify 43 countries but the contract does specify being able to bring online significant additional capacity,” he added. 

The minister said that when the system was introduced there was capacity for 650 people.  

Attorney General Paul Gallagher had raised concerns over the legality of the recommendations when he wrote to Donnelly yesterday.

It is understood there are concerns that European treaty rights and human rights matters have not been fully considered as part of the proposals, and that if certain countries were added to the list, it could in a challenge in the courts.

“It’s a very serious thing we’re doing, we’re doing it because we take the threat of importation and particularly variants, very very seriously. And in that context, obviously we need to make sure that everything is legally robust,” Donnelly said.  

- Contains reporting by Rónán Duffy and Christina Finn.

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