Taoiseach denies 'cack-handed' handling of green list

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By David Young and Aine McMahon, PA

The Irish Government's message not to travel abroad for a holiday remains clear despite the publication of a green list of safe countries, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheal Martin rejected claims from Opposition leader Mary Lou McDonald in the Dail that his administration's handling of the travel issue had been "cack-handed".

Mrs McDonald said Irish people who faced having to cancel foreign holidays had been "thrown under the bus" by the Government and left without support or compensation.

The list of 15 countries was released late on Tuesday night, with popular holiday destinations like Italy and Greece included but Great Britain and the US omitted.

The Government has been accused of mixed messaging by publishing a safe travel list despite continuing to recommend against non-essential travel to anywhere outside the island of Ireland.

"I'm clear the safest thing to do is not to travel," Mr Martin told the Dail on Wednesday.

"That's the clear message - we're saying to people to holiday at home this year."

People arriving from countries on the green list will not have to self-isolate for 14 days in Ireland.

As well as Italy and Greece, the list includes Malta, Finland, Norway, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greenland, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino.

People arriving from other overseas countries - with limited exceptions such as essential supply chain workers - are still required to fill in a passenger locator form and self-quarantine for 14 days.

People crossing the border from Northern Ireland are not subject to restrictions on their movements.

The Taoiseach insisted it would be impossible to enforce mandatory quarantine, and that the most important thing is how quickly the authorities can trace potential Covid-19 contacts.

He highlighted the importance of families with children self-quarantining on arrival from countries not on the list, warning that failure to do so could present a risk to school reopening plans.

During leaders' questions in the Dail, Mrs McDonald claimed the coalition is at odds over the issue, highlighting comments by Tanaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar on Tuesday when he questioned the value of having a green list if government advice relating to travel was unchanged.

The Sinn Fein leader also asked why the Government had not published a "red list" flagging countries that pose the highest risk of Covid-19 infection.

The Opposition leader, who has called for a north/south approach to travel and has advocated self-isolation for everyone arriving on the island, said the Taoiseach is pursuing a "reckless policy with virtually no checks and balances".

She also accused Mr Martin of doing "precious little" to support or compensate those families who are losing out financially.

"There is absolute public confusion and a lack of public confidence in your whole approach, which has been marked as cack-handed and, frankly, operating on a wing and a prayer," she said.

Mrs McDonald added: "You have put yourself at odds with the public health advice, which is for no international travel.

"And you have at once said to the public that you can travel with reduced risks but please do not do so.

"Ordinary people have been thrown under the bus, Taoiseach - they face the situation that those that listen to the public health advice and forgo their holidays are potentially out of pocket by thousands of euro.

"Those that do not heed the public health advice and do travel will do so uninsured."

Mr Martin suggested Mrs McDonald was failing to be constructive and was instead engaging in partisan sniping.

He accused Sinn Fein of adopting contradictory positions, highlighting that the party backed a move by the Northern Ireland Executive to draw up a safe list of almost 60 countries.

"The leader of the Opposition suggested I was at odds with the Tanaiste, which I'm not," he said.

"Well, I have to put it to the deputy that she seems to be at odds with herself."

Mr Martin acknowledged that the Government had not brought forward specific schemes to compensate people set to lose out by cancelling holidays.

But he said citizens would benefit through measures due to be unveiled in an economic stimulus package which would support the hospitality and tourism sectors.

The Taoiseach said he wanted to maximise the synergy between the administrations in Belfast and Dublin but that a fully aligned all-island approached would be "challenging", given Northern Ireland's role within the wider UK response to coronavirus.

Mr Martin also urged people not to over-estimate the numbers of people arriving in the country.

He pointed out that nearly 1.5 million travelled through Dublin Airport in the first 12 days of July last year, compared with 134,000 in the same period this year.

"There's been a lot of hype about travel, there has been a lot of concern about it, I acknowledge the concern, but we need to keep it in perspective," he said.

"There's a 91% drop in travel in and out of Dublin Airport in the first 12 days of July between this year and last year."

The Government has pledged to beef up protocols and procedures in airports to deal with the spread of Covid-19.

That includes the introduction of an electronic passenger locator form, enhanced follow-up procedures, and a proposed testing regime for symptomatic passengers at airports and ports.

Great Britain and the US were expected to be excluded from the green list, as only places with a coronavirus incidence rate the same or lower than Ireland were included.

Thirty-six new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were announced in Ireland on Tuesday, taking the overall tally to 25,802.

No further deaths were announced on Tuesday, with the death toll remaining at 1,753.

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