Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Covid-19 Pandemic

7:35 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Alan Farrell for raising this important issue. On 17 March 2021, the European Commission published its proposal for a regulation to introduce a digital green certificate. The aim of the proposal is to facilitate free movement in the EU through a common framework for the issuance, verification and acceptance of certificates relating to vaccination, testing and recovery. Currently, the epidemiological situation in Ireland and across Europe remains very fragile, with case numbers increasing in many EU countries. I acknowledge the Deputy addressed this in his presentation. This is a planning exercise. The Government's focus now is on avoiding unnecessary international travel, keeping the numbers of new infections low, accelerating the vaccination programme and reopening our economy and society when it is safe to do so. We are working hard on encouraging citizens to stay the course with restrictive measures pending the roll-out of vaccination programmes.

I acknowledge the value of international travel in the re-establishment of economic activities that rely highly on transport, such as travel and tourism. I am keen to ensure that every effort should be made to achieve alignment across the EU in preparing for the reopening of travel for non-essential purposes, as soon as it is safe to do so.

The Government has taken proactive actions to mitigate the risk of importing variants of concern into Ireland by introducing a range of measures, including a mandatory passenger locator form, Covid-19 testing and home quarantine requirements for arriving passengers. Mandatory hotel quarantine has been introduced as an additional element of the public health measures to combat Covid-19, in particular to address the dangers posed by variants of concern. The Government is continually giving consideration to travel policy, informed by the epidemiological situation internationally and by public health advice.

This proposal builds on previous technical work carried out in the Health Security Committee and the eHealth Network, both of which the Department of Health has engaged with throughout the pandemic. The Department is engaging constructively in the ongoing technical discussions at EU level, in collaboration with relevant Departments, to ensure we can achieve alignment in regard to a safe return to international travel.

There are issues with the proposed regulation which are being considered at both national and EU level, including scientific and ethical concerns. There are also reservations about the additional obligations this will place on the health sector, which has been under immense pressure for over a year. The current focus is on the development of the core systems that support the roll-out of vaccines, and this will remain a priority. As such, careful consideration is being given to the proposal and its many policy, infrastructural and operational implications across a number of sectors in Ireland and in the EU.

The Government has worked strenuously with its EU colleagues throughout this pandemic to ensure co-ordination and alignment, where possible. We are committed to continuing this positive and effective partnership in considering this proposal further.


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