Border Checks must not be a distraction – Carthy challenges Transport Minister on International Travel
Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy has told the Dáil that border checks must not be used as a distraction for government failures to tackle the surge of Coronavirus. In a debate with the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, Deputy Carthy said that the actions of local communities, where most people have adhered to restrictions and advice, have not been matched by government moves regarding international travel or testing & tracing capacity.
Teachta Carthy said:
“Communities right across the country, as well as businesses, families and individuals, have gone above and beyond anything we could have imagined this time last year with the onset of the pandemic.
“The truth is there are some things that only the Government can address if they are to be adequately resolved.
“The first is an adequate testing, tracing and isolation regime. The second relates to controls, regulations and the monitoring of particular sectors where clusters can develop very quickly and bring about a significant impact, including the meat industry. The third point relates to international travel restrictions.
“These are three big examples and with all three, the Government has fallen down in these areas.
“I have listened to the Sinn Féin transport spokesperson, Darren O’Rourke, since the formation of this Government and on repeated occasions he has brought issues of concern to the Minister and the Government as a whole. These relate to the need for testing for passengers before and after travelling and he raised the need for a traffic light system as far back as last summer. He has spoken consistently about the need to put in place a quarantine regime. Any movement on these matters has been far too slow and we must address that.
“This week in my county we have seen a number of additional checkpoints put in place on cross-border roads. The message should come from this House very clearly. People should not engage in unnecessary travel, regardless of where they are from.
“My native county of Monaghan borders six other counties, with three in the North and three in this State. The virus does not care which is which and will move across communities.
“My fear is that the prevalence of checkpoints in one direction is, in many respects, a distraction, because it does not deal with the issue of community transmission. The big advantage that we have had since the start, that we have articulated since the start, and that Ireland has in the battle against Covid-19, is that we are surrounded by water.
“That advantage has not been utilised to the degree that is necessary.
“My two questions are as follows.
“When will quarantine measures actually be in place for all those who enter this State without having completed a PCR test for non-essential travel?
Second, what is the Minister doing to promote and encourage cross-border and all-Ireland approaches in respect of this? I refer, in particular, to passenger locator information. When will the Minister ensure that there is seamless sharing of necessary information between authorities, both South to North and North to South?
In response, Minister Eamon Ryan said:
“We work as fast as we can in the circumstances we are in. I will provide some examples. When the UK Government raised a concern about a new variant, the next day, we banned travel from the UK. I believe we were the third country to do this. Perhaps the Danes and the Belgians were an hour ahead of us in doing so. Our response was immediate. At the same time, I believe we were one of the first countries in Europe to require the completion of a PCR test 72 hours before arrival. We did this ahead of the UK Government and others. We do not always respond in lockstep. While it makes sense to follow a two-island strategy, in that case we were ahead. The French Government raised concerns about the new variant and demanded antigen testing for hauliers. We set this up within days and it has been running without any difficulty. It was a difficult thing to set up and turn around, but we did it.
“As for concerns that have been raised about cross-border travel, I agree with the Deputy that we cannot completely seal off the Border. For example, someone who lives in Newry and works in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital or in Dundalk cannot be stopped from crossing the Border. One could think of a thousand such examples. There are those who have rightly pointed out that they were being restricted from travelling in the South but there was no provision in place to restrict others travelling from the North. In response, we immediately approached the Office of the Attorney General with a view to implementing a measure to impose fines in such cases. This was not easy from a legal perspective, but we did it.
“To answer the Deputy’s question on when quarantine measures will be put in place for those who arrive in the State without having completed a PCR test, the legislation will go to Government on Tuesday. It will then go straight to the Dáil. It depends on the business of the Dáil and there will need to be a vote on the legislation. It is something that is being worked out by the Business Committee. It will be done as soon as is possible. The legislation is not without complexity, and there are real concerns around civil liberties and other issues that we are seeking to get right. However, subject to the legislation being passed by this House, I imagine that it will be a matter of days following that, before it will be in place”.
Speaking after the engagement Deputy Carthy accused the Minister of missing the point. “Government have never gotten testing & tracing right. They have never faced up to sectors such as the Meat Industry. They have still not got a handle on international travel. And, they have not adequately worked towards an all-Ireland approach.
“These things need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Distractions will not help. Those many families and workers who have sacrificed so much over the period of this pandemic, deserve no less.”