Thursday, 15 October 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Deputies O'Rourke, McNamara, Carey and others asked about testing. It is an important part of the solution. It is what we need to do and I hope we get agreement in Cabinet next week. Agreement was reached on Tuesday in the European General Affairs Council on the European approach. As we discussed at the committee last week, it left it to national governments to decide what approach they would take.
I will seek support from the Government for the introduction of a testing regime which will allow passengers coming into this country to waive the restriction of movements rules that apply at the current time. Currently people flying in from countries on the red or amber list are subject to a two-week restriction of movements. That is a real impediment and difficulty for a lot of the airlines and others, including people travelling. Having a testing regime will address a lot of those difficulties and will, it is to be hoped, give people confidence to be able to fly and know it is safe.
In respect of the debate here with the public health authorities, I have said this will give us better public health outcomes. Currently, approximately 15,000 people a day are travelling in and out of our airports. We are supposedly monitoring their restriction of movements, but it is not possible to do that. Therefore, we do not have as much control in the current system as we would have if we had a proper testing system.
I would like to see a range of different testing systems. To be honest, we will have to be cognisant of the WHO, ECDC and the European Union, which is working on this as we speak, in terms of which testing systems will be validated. Our intention is to introduce a similar validation system to that in other countries which will allow us to achieve better public health outcomes so passengers do not have to restrict their movements for two weeks on arrival in Ireland.
In answer to Deputy O'Rourke, testing could be done at the airports or in other locations in advance of people flying into Ireland. The current PCR system used in Germany, for example, allows a test to be carried out 72 hours in advance of travelling and has a certification system which allows it to accept passengers into the country.
As Deputies have said, the DAA has done significant work in that regard to try to make sure it would have the capacity for testing in a way that would not impede or affect the national capacity for testing for coronavirus. This is a screening rather than a diagnostic system. There are different testing regimes.
In regard to Deputy Quinlivan, the issue of whether Shannon returns to the DAA is a separate issue to the immediate problem we have in respect of Ryanair in Shannon and Cork. The Seanad debated the issue and our reply to that is not ruling out certain measures. There are difficulties. Such a move will not address the strategic issues we have to address in Shannon. It is not something the Government is saying "No" to explicitly. Rather, it is separate to the issue we are facing today.
I agree with Deputy Buckley that the airport is important for the region. The reason for concern is because this decision affects people directly involved in the industry, tourism and connected industries, such as the industrial estates around the airport, and the possible impact on foreign direct investment in the future. It is a critical issue for the Government and all concerned because of the implications for Cork and Shannon.
Deputy Gould referred to keeping Cork open. Cork Airport will stay open. There will still be Ryanair flights in and out of the airport. The number of flights will be a fraction of the previous number. The pandemic is causing the current difficulty. Even if all flights were open to all destinations, over 80% of the journeys that typically come into the country at this time of year would, if they were happening, come from countries which are currently red listed because of the high number of coronavirus cases. That is one of the fundamental problems in terms of restricting people from travelling. We need a testing system to overcome that difficulty. Cork Airport is remaining open.
To go back to what Deputy Ó Laoghaire said, I hope it is not too late. There may be a possibility that if we get a system in place some confidence will return. One would imagine that would happen within the next month or two. It will not be easy because we are at a high level of alert in terms of coronavirus, not just here but across Europe. We need a six to nine month plan to try to create the conditions which can see the return of flights to Cork Airport.
I will write to Deputy Wynne directly, as she requested, in terms of the review of Shannon Group. The same issue affects it. The Shannon industrial estate around the airport is very much connected to the aviation sector. The aviation industry is a large part of that industrial base in that area. Shannon faces a real challenge.
Deputy O'Donnell mentioned other supports. We are considering other supports. I hope we can-----