Seanad debates

Friday, 7 May 2021

European Digital Green Certificate: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Ar dtús báire, cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ar ais chuig an Teach fá choinne na díospóireachta ar na ráitis seo inniu. The European digital green certificate moves society in the right direction, but it is not a perfect solution for international travel. My colleague, Sinn Féin MEP, Chris MacManus, has extended a guarded welcome to the initiative, but insists a cautious approach must be taken to ensure that it is a success. It is designed to facilitate a smooth path to the resumption of international travel, but we need to be clear that states within the EU must retain their independence in regard to public health rules for travellers such as, for example, mandatory hotel quarantine, or for that matter, in regard to local services which involve the free movement of people, especially young people, in and out of bars, restaurants and venues attracting the public. The intention in limiting people's free movement is to protect all of society and the easing of restrictions should be to do likewise.

We must be careful in our anxiety to get it right that we do not lock people out of the reopening. People are understandably tired of lockdown, especially people who have been living in extreme isolation. For all of us, it has been a difficult situation in terms of our mental well-being. It does not matter what age one is, the anxiety caused by the fear of the virus has been universal. There are many welcome signs of progress towards a new normality, North and South. A digital certificate is a high profile example of just one of these welcome signs. As the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will know, it is not a cure-all remedy to international travel within the EU, but one of a number of many layered measures, with an effective vaccination programme as a solid foundation on which further careful and medically driven advice can steer us to the new normal.

We need to continue to work together following public advice to keep each other safe at all times. The Governments, North and South, must continue to play their part by putting in place robust systems for testing and tracing, quarantine, and building the capacity of the health services. The implementation of the certificate must be done fairly. There is an opportunity to return to safe international travel within the EU. The system which underpins the safe travel between countries must be co-ordinated and focused on creating a travel system that engenders public confidence in those who are travelling. More important, it must be well received by those who are not travelling. People are following what is happening around the world and are understandably worried. We must put in place secure and protective measures to accompany the digital certificate. Fairness, security and privacy with respect to people's personal details will be central pillars of a successful system. We must guard against inequality and the risk of further disadvantaging those who are being made to wait the longest for a vaccine. Many of our young people have made huge sacrifices in the past year, but they are not alone in that. In the majority of cases, they still have not received the vaccine.

I commend my colleague, Chris MacManus, for the focus he put on the need for exemptions in special cases. The reality is that some people cannot avail of the vaccine for medical reasons. The digital certificate must have built into it a credible and manageable exemption mechanism that is respectful of people's special circumstances. The travel plan and complementary system around it, will require ongoing monitoring by all involved in its implementation. I note coverage in the media this morning in respect of the call by the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication Networks for antigen testing to assist what my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, has called a safe return to air travel rather than a boost to air travel, as some people have suggested. Deputy O'Rourke stated today that in the absence of mandatory hotel quarantine for all, the London-Dublin route provides an ideal study site. That would involve, as he says, no change to travel advice and essential travel only. Serial antigen testing in additional to mandatory pre-departure PCR tests provides more protection than we have now. The study would provide useful data. Hopefully, the introduction of the digital green certificate will coincide with a suite of measures in due course that will see us all in a better and safer space in the time ahead for the summer season at home and abroad. Go n-éirí linn in that regard.

I conclude by agreeing with Senator Ward. It has been an extremely difficult and challenging for our aviation sector. It is important that we continue to express our solidarity with and thanks to those workers, and indeed all workers, who have been so badly impacted by this pandemic and those front-line workers who have sacrificed and endured so much to help in the broader process of keeping us all, as a society North and South, safe guarded and protected from the harms of this virus.


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