By Vivienne Clarke
Authorities in the Republic do not have the legal entitlement to hold a person at Dublin airport indefinitely, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
His comments come after it emerged that 80 passengers arrived into the State without proof of a negative test for Covid-19, in the week that the Government introduced a new system requiring proof of a negative PCR test taken within the 72 hours prior to arrival.
The 80 people were cautioned before being allowed to continue on their journey into Ireland.
Mr Coveney told RTÉ radio’s News at One that the figure of 80 people reflected less than one per cent of arrivals and that there was “very strong compliance” with the new PCR test requirements.
The Minister said those who failed to produce proof of a negative test “will be talking to the guards and face a fine of €2,000.”
That includes Irish people coming home
“That includes Irish people coming home,” he added.
While failing to produce a negative test result is a criminal offence and those breaching the rules can face a fine of up to €2,500, gardaí cannot prevent these people from continuing on their journey.
However, Mr Coveney said that gardaí may follow up in the cases of the 80 people who arrived recently.
The Government was also working with the airlines, who were becoming stricter about allowing people to board without a negative PCR test, he said.
The Minister said that the viability of introducing new visa requirements for travel from countries such as South Africa and Brazil was under active consideration, as was mandatory quarantine for people who arrive in the State without a negative PCR test result.
When asked about collective travel restrictions in the EU, Mr Coveney said that at the moment it was not possible “to move in concert on this island”, so it could be difficult to achieve collective agreement at EU level.
“Ideally, yes, I’d like to see collective action,” he said.
It comes as the Cabinet is coming under increasing pressure to introduce tougher restrictions, as the EU mulls a ban on non-essential travel between member states.
A Government source has said that “nothing is being ruled out” in Ireland, in relation to tightening rules on incoming travel.
The country’s deputy chief medical officer has come out in support of stricter measures, saying that mandatory quarantine should be introduced for people coming into Ireland.
Dr Ronan Glynn told the Oireachtas Health Committee that there should be as few people as possible coming into the country for non-essential reasons over the coming months.
It came a day after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said introducing a 14-day quarantine period for travellers arriving in the country would be “disproportionate” and “unworkable”.
Meanwhile, a leading microbiologist has warned that unless Ireland seals its borders and introduces rigorous quarantining measures there will be repeated lockdowns for the remainder of the year and maybe even into 2022.
Speaking on Friday, Minister Coveney said it was too early yet to say how long the current Level 5 restrictions would last, but the Cabinet was meeting next week and would try to give people certainty as early as possible.
“We don’t know how the strains are going to behave,” he said. As long as there were 2,000 cases per day and there was strain on the health system restrictions could not be eased, he said.
With regard to schools reopening, especially for special needs students, Mr Coveney said he would like to see all sides taking the advice of the public health experts.