Friday, 7 May 2021
European Digital Green Certificate: Statements
I thank the Minister of State for coming to take this debate today because it was difficult to get. I appreciate that although the Department of Foreign Affairs is not responsible for rolling out the digital green certificate, he is here to represent the Government's views. I am genuinely appreciative of that so nothing that I say is personal to him.
I want to make some remarks about mandatory hotel quarantining because the Minister of State opened his remarks by saying that it was part of a response to the situation in which we found ourselves. The situation was grave in January but, to my mind, we were dragged kicking and screaming by populism to introduce mandatory hotel quarantining, to alleviate the blame or responsibility of where we were in a country.The Minister of State mentioned that we introduced mandatory hotel quarantining because the UK variant was having a significant impact in Ireland. Despite this, we left the doors and windows open to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom while picking on other countries and, in particular, on Irish citizens travelling to and from those other countries, through the requirement for mandatory hotel quarantining. It was highly regrettable that the number of exemptions far outweighed the number of rules, that we settled every single court case taken against us with regard to hotel quarantining and that we ended up having more holes in the system than there are in a bloody block of Swiss cheese.
The best thing we can do is to quietly let the sunset clause come and go and to accept that we made mistakes while acknowledging that we will have to work incredibly hard to rebuild our reputation, which is damaged not just with the Commission, but with our EU counterparts. That will be the Minister of State's job. Over recent months, ambassadors from countries such as Austria, Italy and France have bemoaned the treatment of their citizens and of Irish citizens living in those countries. I genuinely wish the Minister of State well in rebuilding our reputation but the best thing we can do is to let that sunset clause come and go and to let mandatory hotel quarantining be a thing of the past.
I welcome the Minister of State's reference to our legal obligations with regard to introducing this certificate and our absolute commitment to doing so. Only this morning, however, our national flag-carrier airline announced €103 million in losses for the first quarter of this year in addition to accumulated losses of €548 million for 2020. The Dublin Airport Authority, the semi-State body that runs our airports, has reported €250 million in losses. Ryanair has not told us of its losses yet but they have to be multiples of those figures. More than 140,000 Irish people's livelihoods have been in suspension since March last year. Those who are lucky enough to get it are living on the pandemic unemployment payment while others are living on a fraction of payments made under the employment wage subsidy scheme or temporary wage subsidy scheme because of the way in which their companies managed the roll-out of those income supports. They are all looking for consistency of language and approach from the variety of Ministers who have a responsibility to deliver the restart programme for our aviation industry and to roll out the EU green certificate.
There are eight flights leaving Dublin Airport tomorrow; two of these are going to Kerry, two to Donegal, three to America and one to London. Aer Lingus has told its staff that the company is over-resourced and that it requires a commitment from the Irish Government as to when and how the digital certificate is to be rolled out and notice as to the date on which it will be safe to turn on. Dr. Tony Holohan told us all yesterday to go and enjoy ourselves and to get ready to have a meaningful summer, yet the Department of Transport has said absolutely nothing about aviation for the last 12 months. We need to know when the restart programme is to be initiated. We need a lead-in period of at least six weeks because those tickets are not going to magically sell themselves as soon as we press the "on" button.
We also need consistency of language. We are talking about people's livelihoods. When we talk about the aviation industry, we are not taking about aeroplanes and big multinational corporate companies. We are talking about people who live where the Minister of State and I live. We are talking about people who live in Dublin, Shannon, Limerick and Cork and across the breadth of the country. These are the people who serve us when we get on the plane and the ground crew. They are not earning massive bucks. We are also speaking about pilots and the management of these organisations. Some 143,000 livelihoods have been suspended for the last 12 months. We are absolutely obligated to give them hope and a roadmap. Right now, we have given them nothing except a commitment. The question, however, is "when?" Legislation was passed in the UK six weeks ago. The very least we need to do now is to tell them when we expect the legislation to be passed in the European Parliament, when our IT system will be ready, what it will look like and what people will have to do to show they are eligible to travel. We need to tell the airline industry that it can, for example, start selling tickets for the month of July now, in May. We need to give airlines some sort of roadmap and some sort of hope because God knows that those 143,000 families across the country have done so much by living on €350. The very least we can do is to give them some hope that they will be able to earn their own livelihoods sooner rather than later. I thank the Minister of State for coming in today. I appreciate it.