Travel Restrictions

Before introducing the officials I wish to advise that the Business Committee has yet to determine whether we can meet on Thursday morning. Invitations have been extended, but at a very late hour, to the World Health Organization, WHO, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC. There is also the issue of whether it is technologically possible to conduct a meeting by video link. I hope it would be but we are in the hands of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service in that regard. I am sorry to inconvenience members but we hope to still have a meeting on Thursday morning and we will know by lunchtime tomorrow.

Bureaucracy at its best.

Those are the Deputy's words, not mine. We are joined this afternoon by officials from the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Health and the National Transport Authority, NTA, to deal with travel restrictions. I welcome Mr. Niall Burgess, Secretary General, and Dr. Ann Derwin, director general, global Irish services, Department of Foreign Affairs. I thank them for joining us.

Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General, Department of Health will be in committee room 1. He joined us for the previous session and I thank him for joining us for a second session today. He is accompanied by Mr. Colm Ó Conaill, principal officer, Department of Health. I also welcome Ms Anne Graham, CEO, and Mr. Tim Gaston, director of public transport services, NTA.

I wish to advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

While we expect witnesses to answer questions asked by the committee clearly and with candour, they can and should also expect to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in accordance with the witness protocol.

I ask any witnesses who wish to raise any issues in that regard to do so. I ask all the witnesses to confine their opening remarks to five minutes because we are very constrained on time. Can we have Mr. Breslin's opening remarks, please?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I thank the committee for the invitation to address the committee again on the issue of travel restrictions.

The World Health Organization offered guidance in a strategy document in April for countries which were considering lifting restrictions detailing the additional measures that would be needed to ensure that the spread of Covid-19 could be contained. Among these, the document recommended that the risk posed by imported cases of the virus should be managed. As the committee will be aware, it was imported cases that led to transmission of the virus in Ireland in the first place. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, published a paper on considerations for travel-related measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 on 22 May last. That paper notes that while community transmission is high, imported cases are likely to make less of a contribution to the overall spread of the virus and, therefore, restrictions are not needed. However, when community transmission reduces, as is the case in Ireland currently, imported cases could be the cause of a second wave of infection and governments should consider the need for restrictions or other measures accordingly. The Government has already taken several measures to curtail non-essential travel. On 25 March, the Taoiseach announced that no non-essential travel should take place in the State or overseas.

Thankfully, our progress as a country in managing the disease has allowed us to make progress in implementing the Government's roadmap for the reopening of society and business. Phase 1 of the roadmap sees the permitted range of travel raised from 2 km to 5 km and phase 2 will see that raised further. There have been questions about the step nature of these changes but the rationale is to allow public health officials to monitor the spread of the virus when the restrictions are modified.

When the full restrictions were in place, the number of potential contacts of each infected person plummeted as there was less circulation of people. As the restrictions are relaxed, we can expect the number of contacts to increase again but, hopefully, in a way that continues to see the spread of infection controlled. Everyone is anxious to have the benefit of allowing some return to the normal functioning of society, which has its own public health benefits, as long as this is done carefully.

As for travel from overseas, the roadmap sets out a clear expectation that all passengers arriving in the State are expected to self-isolate for 14 days. Following advice from the WHO and the ECDC, the Government introduced a form on 26 April for passengers coming into the State to fill out, which gives information on where they will be staying. A system of follow-up calls was also put in place with calls made at the two-day and 12-day mark. As the committee will be aware, it is believed that Covid-19 has a 14-day incubation period. At first, this form was voluntary. However, as of Thursday last, 28 May, this form has become mandatory and incoming passengers are also required to update the information on the form if it changes and to answer any queries made at their point of entry or as part of follow-on calls. These requirements were introduced to increase compliance in completing the form and to enable contact tracing if any passengers arriving from overseas contract or are suspected to have contracted the virus.

The Covid-19 passenger locator form collects information from arrivals from overseas, including their name, date of birth, and the details of their flight or ferry. Those passengers who are not staying in the State, for example, travelling to Northern Ireland or overseas, do not have to provide the address information. Those passengers remaining in Ireland are required to provide details of an address where they will be staying for the 14 days following their arrival.

The form provides information on why these details are being collected and how it will be processed. The form will be kept for 28 days and then destroyed unless it is needed for enforcement of the regulations. The reason for the 28-day retention period is to enable contract tracing.

The regulations that introduced the form also introduced several offences which are punishable by a fine of €2,500, six months imprisonment or both.

Passenger numbers are at approximately 1% of their usual volumes at present but that may change. Other countries in the EU, many of which had bans on non-essential travel, are reopening and allowing their citizens to travel. Airlines are restoring their flight itineraries and are encouraging people to book trips.

The right time to put special conditions on people who are proposing to travel is now. We need to maintain awareness that the danger has not passed and that people are taking a risk of spreading the virus by engaging in non-essential travel.

The advice of NPHET to the Minister for Health on 3 April was that both the passenger locator form and the self-isolation for 14 days should become mandatory and the Government has asked the Minister for Health to examine the issue of a 14-day self-isolation period for people arriving in the State.

This is being considered by several Departments and will be subject to further consideration. There are complex issues of international and domestic law involved. The EU position and that of other member states is also evolving.

The WHO has said that the most plausible future scenario in the dynamic of Covid-19 may involve recurring epidemic waves interspersed with periods of low-level transmission. That is the context within which travel restrictions apply and continue to be reviewed. It is important that, where travel needs to take place, it does not pose significant risk to the wider public.

Mr. Niall Burgess

I welcome this opportunity to meet the committee today and to outline the contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Covid-19 response. This response has extended from consular support to assistance in the wider procurement efforts, the secondment of a significant number of staff to other essential services, the mitigation of some of the global impacts of the pandemic, the maintenance of a global mission network and, of course, the maintenance of other ongoing essential work.

With the permission of the Chairman, I would like first to address the actual and likely impact of travel restrictions on those wishing to enter the State. As this Department’s particular responsibility rests with the protection and care of Irish citizens overseas, I will focus my comments on the challenges faced by citizens seeking to return to the State.

Our consular directorate, in close co-operation with our network of embassies and consulates overseas, has been assisting citizens affected by Covid-19 pandemic since the virus first emerged in China in January. By mid-February, the pandemic was spreading rapidly around the world and, as a result, countries were imposing internal and international restrictions on travel, shutting down public spaces, suspending flights and closing airspace, with an increasing number of our citizens facing the prospect of being stranded abroad. In response, we activated a dedicated helpline to provide direct support and advice. Drawing on staff redeployed from across the Department and from the Passport Office, the crisis centre scaled up quickly to operate on a 24-7 basis, receiving up to 2,000 calls per day. By the end of May, the centre had handled more than 20,000 contacts from Irish citizens at home and abroad.

The first repatriations we assisted with were from Wuhan, China, in late January, followed by assistance to citizens stranded on cruise ships in Japan and Cambodia. To date, we have advised and assisted well over 6,000 citizens in returning home from 129 countries. This has included providing information about available routes and connections, ensuring seats on commercial flights wherever possible and negotiating places on flights chartered by the UK, EU and other like-minded partners. In a few exceptional cases – where there were significant groups of Irish citizens with no alternative options to leave and in circumstances that made them particularly vulnerable - we chartered planes ourselves, bringing back citizens from Peru, India and Nigeria.

In all operations, we have prioritised public health considerations, liaising closely with the Department of Health, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the HSE and the Dublin Airport Authority.

Our consular directorate has also been working closely with our embassies and consulates on complicated and often very distressing issues such as hospitalisations and deaths overseas, repatriation of remains, and the treatment of prisoners in the context of Covid-19.

Although great progress has been achieved in responding to the many consular challenges posed by Covid-19, this operation is far from over. At present, we are aware of more than 1,000 citizens dispersed across many countries, some in remote locations, with an interest in returning home and we are working with them to provide advice and help them with access to essential local services. The potential future challenges which our citizens’ will face will depend to a large extent on the evolution of the pandemic over the coming months. In the meantime, we have established a dedicated Covid-19 response fund for Irish communities abroad designed to protect the elderly, to provide mental health supports and to meet the needs of those made newly vulnerable by the pandemic.

As regards outward travel, since mid-March the Government has advised against all non-essential travel overseas and the security status assigned to all countries was upgraded to reflect this advice. We continue to advise against all non-essential travel.

As I am sharing time with colleagues from the Department of Health today, I should mention the close working relationship we have in addressing this crisis. In that context, for example, we have seconded several staff from the Passport Office to the HSE to assist with contact tracing.

In our response to Covid-19, we are keenly aware that we must consider the shared geography of the island of Ireland and the cross-border mobility of people through close and ongoing contact, both North-South and east-west. The Government is, therefore, engaged in co-operation with the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government with the intention of delivering an effective response to the threat of Covid-19 on behalf of all the people of this island. The Irish Government’s roadmap to ease the Covid-19 restrictions, published on 1 May, acknowledges the need to continue to work intensively on our approach to travel restrictions and controls at ports and airports and on the need for co-operation with Northern Ireland, the UK and our EU partners.

Throughout this crisis, we have also been clear on the need to ensure that our global network of embassies and consulates remains operational to deliver essential services. All 90 Irish missions across our network have continued to work, notwithstanding significant challenges. This has facilitated essential business, including ongoing EU business and the management of Brexit. It has also facilitated extensive reporting on the progress and impact of the disease globally and the measures taken by other governments to address the pandemic and the challenges of economic recovery as an input to policymaking at home. It has supported our efforts to source and ship critical medical supplies for the Covid-19 response. Our embassies in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Berlin and a small team in the Department here in Dublin have been working closely with IDA Ireland, the HSE-----

I ask Mr. Burgess to conclude.

Mr. Niall Burgess

I will conclude there. My full statement has been provided.

I thank Mr. Burgess. His statement has been circulated.

Ms Anne Graham

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to attend the committee.

Prior to the crisis, the National Transport Authority, NTA, had been recording a significant growth in public transport usage in our cities and towns and in rural Ireland thanks to increased investment by the NTA in new and enhanced services. However, the Covid-19 crisis and the Government’s response, including school closures from 13 March followed by the requirement to stay at home which applied from 23 March, had a profound and ongoing impact on the demand for public transport. Daily demand is now typically between 10% and 20% of what it was prior to mid-March. Weekly demand in early March was approximately 5.6 million passengers. By mid-April this figure had declined to 500,000 passengers, which is less than 9% of normal demand levels. Although demand remains very low, some recovery in passenger numbers has been apparent in recent weeks.

Throughout this crisis, the NTA and the public transport operators have closely followed the public health advices. In line with those advices, we have implemented a number of measures across the public transport system for enhanced cleaning regimes and to facilitate appropriate social distancing. The NTA worked with public service obligation, PSO, public transport operators to provide consistent signage on board all bus, rail and Luas services to encourage physical distancing by passengers and to reduce the risk of close passenger contact with drivers. These measures were rolled out in early April. The impact of these measures has been to reduce dramatically the passenger-carrying capacity of each vehicle to around 20% of its former level in the case of buses, with a larger reduction in the case of rail. The reduced demand for travel, however, was such that this social distancing was easily achieved on all services.

Prior to Covid-19, each public transport vehicle was cleaned internally and externally each night before entering service the next morning. From early March onwards, this cleaning regime was progressively enhanced by more intensive night-time cleaning measures, focusing in particular on passenger touch points such as grab rails and seat handles. These cleaning measures were later supplemented by on-board cleaning of passenger touch points during the service day.

On revised timetables, we put in place Saturday plus timetables on bus and rail services. This reflected the huge decrease in travel demand that had taken place but we maintained sufficient services to meet residual demand by essential travellers at all times, especially in the early morning when many healthcare staff required public transport services. Luas and regular rural services continue to maintain normal schedules. The demand responsive services provided by LocalLink supported local communities in delivering supplies, particularly to those who were cocooning. Throughout the crisis, the dedication of operator staff and drivers in particular in continuing to provide public transport services to those who still need to travel has been remarkable, and I would like to record that here today.

The NTA is aware that the commercial bus and small public service vehicle sector, like all businesses, has been severely impacted during this crisis. The Government has put in place a number of supports for businesses and the NTA is continuing to work with these sectors and other stakeholders to do all within our powers to support them.

In planning for reopening phases, the pattern of travel on public transport has changed radically and is likely not to immediately return to the same patterns that were in place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The planning of the public transport response to the Government's roadmap is challenging as there are now new norms. The authority has made extensive contacts with employer, industry and retail bodies as well as larger third level institutions to ascertain the manner in which various sectors expect to phase their reopening in line with the Government roadmap. At a high level, the response to the various reopening phases is as follows. In phase 1, commencing 18 May, we have maintained the reduced weekday timetable. We lengthened trains where required and provided additional services at peak times as required. We will introduce normal Monday to Friday timetables for commuters on bus and DART for phase 2. During phases 3 to 5 we will continue to monitor travel demand and work with operators on providing additional services where needed, subject to availability of fleet, drivers and funding. The resultant travel demand in response to phase 1 of the easing of restrictions has been higher than expected. We believe that there is a large percentage of non-essential travel being made on public transport, which is using up the capacity that we had planned for phase 2. Public transport capacity with social distancing will be significantly challenged without a number of other supporting measures. These include encouraging organisations to continue to facilitate working from home, remote learning, online shopping and online appointments where possible; discouraging use of public transport at peak times except for essential travel; and encouraging staggered start times and longer opening hours to spread demand out of peak.

The NTA is working with local authorities to introduce mobility plans in cities, starting with Dublin city centre, to manage travel demand to urban centres, to protect space for public transport and provide additional space to meet increased cycling and walking demand. We will fund the emergency infrastructure identified by local authorities; encourage people to keep their journeys short and local wherever possible; and promote cycling and walking instead of public transport or car wherever possible. There is no doubt that there needs to be a radical shift in the use of active travel modes over the next few months in our towns and cities.

I must ask Ms Graham to conclude.

Ms Anne Graham

Thank you.

I welcome the witnesses. I compliment the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Many of my constituents in County Kerry were among the 6,000 who were anxiously seeking to be repatriated in very difficult times. They were stretched across 129 countries throughout the globe. I am very grateful for the proactive assistance that was received from the Department through the helpline, the mercy flights and also in providing connectivity with other flights where necessary.

I want to address a question to Mr. Breslin. Kerry is a very strong tourism county. We are deeply reliant on tourism and last year generated in excess of €500 million from that sector alone. We want to open up but we absolutely want to do so safely, securely and with best practice from a health point of view. I note from Mr. Breslin's report that mandatory self-isolation is being mooted. Is the Department currently looking at the notion of rapid testing at airports, with a very quick turnaround? That would make a great difference to counties like Kerry and other tourism areas. It would breed confidence if the turnaround was very quick. Is that being considered from a health best practice point of view?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I thank the Deputy. The best means we have for generating activity within the country is to keep the virus low. That would allow us all to circulate, including to go to beautiful parts of the country on the west coast. I hope that will be something we will be able to do as the phases continue.

On overseas travel into the country, there are difficulties with a testing regime. The tests only identify the virus at particular points in the cycle. One could have undetected Covid-19 for somebody in the early days after having contacted another individual with Covid-19. It just would not be in their respiratory tract. The test result would be "Not detected" but they would hear that as, "I do not have Covid." There is quite a period where people are asymptomatic. When they subsequently developed symptoms, they might dismiss them because they had been tested. Countries have looked at it but there are issues around it in the message it sends out. The most important thing is that people are aware of their own symptoms and respond quickly to them. It is also important that we would not have people coming from areas where community transmission is higher than it is in our own country.

That is hard to achieve because the knowledge we have of different countries is predicated on them having a testing regime that is similar to our own, and not every country has that. The EU has talked about corridors and different relationships between countries. That, again, would all be in subsequent phases. I do not think anything we are talking about will be immediate but they are potentially matters being worked out at European level for further phases in the reopening process.

I thank Mr. Breslin. I turn to Ms Graham from the NTA. She stated that in phase 1 the expected take-up of those needing public transport far exceeded what the NTA had anticipated. How are we placed for phases 2 and 3? Are we facing a scenario where some people will have to stay at home because they do not have access to public transport to get to work? How is the 2 m rule impacting on the NTA's availability of access to public transport? What is Ms Graham's view on the 1 m to 2 m distinction?

Ms Anne Graham

As I outlined in my statement, the impact of the 2 m social distancing has reduced the capacity on our buses by about 20% and on rail by a lower figure. It significantly impacts on the numbers that can travel on public transport. It means we recommend that as many people as possible continue to stay at home and not travel during the different phases of reopening in the Government's roadmap because there are restrictions on public transport capacity due to social distancing. Moving to 1 m would double the available capacity but it is really a matter for the Government, the public health experts and the Department of Health to make recommendations in that regard, and we will follow the guidance associated with that.

I join my colleague in acknowledging the work on repatriation done by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A number of constituents have contacted me about it, particularly in respect of the operation in Peru, and it is an absolute credit to the people on the ground, the organisation and the people in Dublin who helped to facilitate it. The Tánaiste also worked hard on it. It was vital not only for those people who were overseas but also for their families who went through incredible stress. It is worth acknowledging that because we move on so quickly in terms of where we are with this pandemic.

I wish to follow up on a theme raised by Deputy Foley, namely, the 14-day quarantine to be required by people coming into the country. I address this to the HSE and, in the absence of representatives of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, I would like to get the perspective of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well. We are effectively putting ourselves in a situation where, if that remains in place for the next few months, there will be no inbound tourism in Ireland this season. That will have a huge impact, not just in Kerry but in Dublin and on the whole economy of the corporate hospitality area. It is strange for people to see other countries that were far worse affected than our country, such as Spain and Italy, being reopened to allow inbound travel, particularly from Europeans. We seem to be coming to our decision late, and doing it at a time that seems the worst in almost every way.

If the quick test cannot work, why can we not, as in the case of Greece recently, draw up a list of countries where the R-nought number or the level of Covid presence is roughly equivalent to ours and work out a way of processing inward-bound travel? We may have to have restrictions from certain countries but we cannot tell the entire hospitality industry that there will be no inbound tourism.

We have the worst of both worlds in one respect. One has a mandatory form and an optional quarantine. That will play out, however, on international social media and international coverage as there being no point going to Ireland as one cannot go as it is closed. I would like to hear how we are going to move, as well as how quickly we can move, on that, particularly for fellow EU member states.

Mr. Jim Breslin

Obviously this is fluid. As I said, the Minister for Health has been asked to look at the issue of mandatory self-isolation and come back to the Government on it. I will not prejudice what that process will involve. It will, however, involve significant input across relevant Departments, including the Departments of Health, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Justice and Equality, the Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Taoiseach and others, to look at this issue and come back.

It is relevant because, if we go back to the start, if one gets to a point where community transmission is really low in the country, then we can all circulate again. That is exactly what we want to do. We want to get the economy, industry and retail back. If during that process, however, one imports cases from travel from overseas, then one can restart the uptick in cases again. One can then have a break-out of cases leading to a wave. There is a trade-off and it is about the level of risk involved.

I just want to come back in because I have 52 seconds left.

The problem I have with that thinking is very simple. If one continues that on to the basis of what Mr. Breslin is saying, then there is no international travel until a vaccine. If that is the case, and that is our thinking, then we need to spell that out because of the implications for our tourism and the hospitality sector. I cannot remember the exact figures but it was approximately 10 million visits last year versus a population of half that effectively on the island. If everybody holidays at home, we simply do not have enough people here to sustain our tourism and hospitality industries. When can they see some light? At the moment, we seem to be turning the light off on them completely, while other countries, again with much worse Covid rates, have made the decision that it is safe for them to re-open.

Mr. Jim Breslin

The Deputy referred to it in his question. It is not in this phase but there is a point down the road where one has sufficient knowledge of community transmission in other countries and good information on that. At EU level, it is being talked of as corridors. One might be able to have reciprocal arrangements with a group of countries. There might be other countries where they do not have the virus under control and from where one would not want to travel. That is the type of scenario at subsequent phases that one would potentially be able to look to generate.

Thank you, Deputy Brophy. I call Deputy O'Rourke. Are you speaking for ten or five minutes?

It is for ten minutes. I thank the witnesses.

Has there been any assessment of the impact of the decision not to restrict travel at an earlier stage? There are indications in Britain of the impact of the Cheltenham festival and the Liverpool-Atlético Madrid game. Have we an assessment of these? It strikes me we acted late. We did not lock down or restrict movement early. We imported the virus. Was there an assessment of the impact of, for example, not introducing the passenger locator form as a mandatory measure earlier or having contact tracing added at an earlier stage? I am thinking in terms of Cheltenham but also in terms of the Ireland-Italy rugby game, as well as people returning home from skiing in northern Italy.

Mr. Jim Breslin

There are definitely phases to this. If the Deputy remembers the mid-term and people arriving home from Italy, that was in a situation where the knowledge of the virus as having been in Italy was current at that stage. Whether we could have foreseen that or not, all this is about judgment calls at a point in time. However, we did not have the subsequent information that subsequently developed.

I remember the recommendation that the Ireland-Italy match should be postponed and not go ahead. There was criticism from all sides about that. It was not just people saying we should have made the decision earlier. Many people said we should not have made the decision at all and should have allowed the match to go ahead.

Regarding Cheltenham, the Deputy should be aware of the extent of the cases in the UK at the time. That is not to say that if we had to make the decision over again, we would make it but at the time of Cheltenham there were 590 cases across the whole UK. When we recommended that the rugby match with Italy be postponed, there were 15,000 cases initially, mostly in northern Italy, where a lot of the rugby supporters came from. Also at the time, we recommended that the St Patrick's Day parade be cancelled. Again, we are taking decisions as we were going along.

I am sorry to interrupt but we do not have an assessment of the impact of our response in terms of travel into and out of the country. It strikes me that other countries have assessed the impact of events in question in terms of the clusters they created. We are trying to assess here our policy response and interventions. It strikes me that it was later when we introduced the mandatory form rather than earlier.

Mr. Jim Breslin

I will come back to the mandatory form as I am still referring to the early phase. At that time, the recommendation of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control was that we not impose border restrictions because they are ineffective. Italy imported cases from China thinking it was fine because it had banned flights from China, but people had made it to Italy anyway through indirect routes and there was take-off as a result of that. We were operating in that situation but the Deputy is correct to state the first of our cases came from northern Italy. To that extent, it had an effect on us. Whether we had the ability to insulate ourselves from that was questionable given that the individuals concerned were Irish people returning from holidays. We certainly were recommending self-isolation.

I will move on. I thank Mr. Breslin for the response on-----

Mr. Jim Breslin

Let me just answer the question on the passenger locator form. It is important to understand that the rate of travel into the country is down to 1%. Therefore, this is the right time to implement the form. It is not that we have our usual rate of travel. We have implemented the form ahead of time. Should we need it, we will have the information from the forms to contact trace.

On a related point, on which I am picking up, many have been hearing conflicting messages over the past week or maybe a little longer, be it from public health professionals or representatives of airlines and the airline industry. There is lot of confusion in this regard. People are looking towards the summer holidays and wondering what the landscape will be like. Some have their summer holidays abroad booked. I know people who book almost a year in advance. Some are anxious to get away on their summer holidays. People will be able to travel to Bergamo or Madrid in a couple of weeks if they want. Those areas were very badly affected by Covid-19. What advice is coming from the Department on what the landscape will be like? Can people expect mandatory self-isolation in June, July, August and September in Ireland? What are travellers to expect? What are employers to expect of their employees? What is the position of the Department on that?

Mr. Jim Breslin

The current Government advice is that there be no non-essential travel overseas. That will be kept under review and it may change. I will not make the decision on that. We input advice that informs the decision-making but I will not make the decision; it will be a Government-wide decision. Just as I will not make the decision, it will not be made purely on public health grounds. It is important, however, that people hear that the advice of the Government is that they do not undertake non-essential travel at the moment. That would include booking or entering into financial arrangements for non-essential travel. Most people are responsible and they think not only about themselves but also about their loved ones, families and so on. There is a risk attaching to travel so if people can avoid it, they should. There will be circumstances where people need to undertake trips. They weigh those things up but, at the moment, the advice is that if the travel is non-essential, it should not be undertaken.

It is the case, then, that it will be consistently under review?

For those people who booked a family or summer holiday for July or August already, as far as a year back or earlier this year, what protections will there be if their airline is flying at that stage? Will the State give clear advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Health about what areas are safe for non-essential travel and what areas are not safe to travel to?

Mr. Niall Burgess

Our travel advice at the moment is to avoid all non-essential travel. That is based on the public health advice here.

Additional protections are afforded to consumers and travellers if the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says not to travel to certain countries.

Mr. Niall Burgess

That is true. As the health situation evolves in other countries and as our own public health advice evolves, our travel advice will evolve too. I do not want to go into speculation about where that may take us but from the start of this year, we have worked very closely with the Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer to give advice which reflects both public health considerations here and the risks which one enters into by travelling overseas. That is not simply the risk from being in another country but the risk from undertaking travel too.

I have a question for Ms Graham from the NTA about the mandatory wearing of face masks on public transport. It strikes me, travelling through Dublin today, that very few people are wearing face coverings. I do not know if other people have the same experience. We have advice about wearing face masks but it is not mandatory. We nearly have as much information about the exceptions as there is about the wearing of masks themselves. I know that union representatives are looking for mandatory face masks. Will this be considered and introduced immediately?

Ms Anne Graham

It is not for the NTA to put forward advice about that. It is a matter of Government guidelines. NPHET advice is that the use of face coverings on busy public transport is advised. We certainly support that. We encourage our customers to use face coverings on busy public transport, especially as it gets busier in phase two. We are running a campaign on public transport and social media to ask all public transport customers to wear face coverings to protect drivers and operator staff as well as other customers. Making them compulsory or mandatory is a matter for the Government.

Due to time limitations, I do not have many questions for the NTA but I want to make a point that has been touched on already. I got public transport here today and I was the only person wearing a face mask. That is especially worrying in the context of the fact that we are moving to phase two on Monday and many more people will look for public transport, and that Ms Graham said that the level of people using public transport at the beginning of phase one was more than the NTA anticipated. That was two and a half weeks ago, which was a very different place. We are a lot more lax with restrictions now. Monday could see a very difficult situation for public transport providers around the country because face masks are not being worn, by and large. When I got off the train, maybe one in thirty people coming off the carriages and onto the platform was wearing a face mask. There needs to be a much clearer message about what people need to do on public transport. Problems are brewing for Monday.

I would like to ask many questions but time is limited. How many local authorities have actively engaged with the NTA about reallocating space and the emergency funding that is available?

Ms Anne Graham

We just put out a call only a number of days ago so it will take a while for those local authorities to get in touch with us. We have approximately six or seven local authorities that have made contact with us to date but we expect to receive more submissions for funding to improve walking and cycling facilities.

What kind of fund is available? What is the total pot, so to speak?

Ms Anne Graham

We have not put a figure on that. It is just that we are in a position to fund and we want to get as many proposals as possible in so we can move as quickly as we can to ensure we can put in place more walking and cycling infrastructure.

I have three general questions for the Department of Health, and I will deal with the more specific one first. In comparing phases 3 and 4, I would like a medical or scientific opinion on whether we could see a position whereby if we see progression, it would be possible to move to phase 4 a bit earlier. I am just thinking of travel within the country and to the west coast, for example. Is it possible we will see a position where if there is continued dramatic improvement, the stages could be bumped up, so to speak?

Mr. Jim Breslin

An important caveat is that I am not giving a public health assessment because I am not a public health doctor. Within the Department of Health and the Government, everybody is on the record as saying the roadmap is just that. It is a living document and based on our travel and how we get along we can adapt our decision-making at various stages. It is important the three-week windows are built in to review each stage but it means, in light of our experience and that of other countries, we can act where we see new evidence around risk. For example, if something is in stage 4 because it is seen to be a high risk but evidence indicates it is a lower risk, it can be reviewed and evaluated as we go along.

I urge caution. If we get stages 1 and 2 right, we might get that effort repaid later. I have a question regarding aviation. What will the landscape look like when it is possible to safely fly again? I refer specifically to infection rates and so on. Have officials thought about what restrictions might be needed both with respect to airlines and airports?

Mr. Jim Breslin

There are many levels to what the landscape will look like. The first element is the willingness of the public to travel and there will be anxiety on the part of members of the public for a considerable period. The European authorities have worked with the airline industry to devise procedures for those who must travel and physical distancing and other elements can be put in place around that. Ultimately, this will be based on national authorities making an assessment of where they are with their public health strategy and moving between phases in the extent of opening facilities. That may involve different arrangements in different countries. Some countries are very much in the take-off phase currently. Examples are in South America and eastern Europe etc., and people would be much more reluctant to have an arrangement for reciprocal travel in those cases than if we were all successful in suppressing the virus, for example, and where two countries had very low levels of community transmission.

I apologise as I was attending a meeting of the Business Committee and missed some sessions. I apologise if my questions are repetitive.

The advice from NPHET to the Minister on the passenger locator form and self-isolation was made on 3 April. That is two months ago, which is a long time in the context of this pandemic. What level of communication has there been with NPHET and the Department of Health on this specifically since?

Mr. Jim Breslin

There has been a great deal of discussion. Officials on NPHET are on the staff of the Department. The first action was to put the passenger locator form into place, which was done speedily; it was first done on a voluntary basis and then last Thursday we introduced it on a mandatory basis. That was to address the fact that the compliance rate was running at approximately 70% and we have full compliance now.

As I said earlier, we are still at about 1% of the normal levels of overseas travel into the country, so we believe it is timely to be at 100% compliance. There is further discussion under way, not just within the Department and with NPHET but also with other Departments relating to the 14 days self-isolation period, with a view to going back to Government with a review of that and decisions being made.

I thank Mr. Breslin. I will direct my next question to Ms Graham of the National Transport Authority, NTA. I am getting a number of representations from taxi drivers and taxi drivers' groups on where they stand in this unwinding process. Will Ms Graham give me an indication of the kind of engagement that has taken place with taxi drivers regarding their responsibilities and the supports that will be given to them? In particular, if we are talking about aviation, Dublin Airport is poorly served by public transport compared with other international airports. Having a functioning taxi service is vitally important. I would appreciate any insights Ms Graham might give on that.

Ms Anne Graham

I am sorry but I have to disagree with the Deputy that the airport is poorly served by public transport. We believe it is well served by bus transport, certainly not by rail but we are working on that.

In terms of the measures the NTA has taken to assist the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector, we have had extensive engagement with the industry, both individually and through our website, providing advice and assistance on all aspects of operation and temporary deferral of activities. We have deferred renewal dates of vehicles due to renew by three months, from 13 March to 12 June. That will be reviewed in line with the SPSV suitability inspection centre reopening. We have got a new regulation in place to enable the operation for a further 12 months for those vehicles that would reach a final date of operation between 13 March and 31 December 2020. We have provided advisory guidelines on temporary Covid-19 dividing screens. We have also engaged with the insurance providers and facilitated cover reductions to private or foreign theft cover only for parking up of the SPSVs. We have done as much as we can in terms of our remit and the legislation we have in place. We continue to engage with the SPSV sector. We are very much aware of the impact this pandemic has had on the industry and we will continue to work with those in it to provide as much support as we can do.

I thank Ms Graham. In terms of the increase in services for Dublin Bus and other bus providers, will there be increased communication over the next few days in advance of the next phase next week?

Ms Anne Graham

We are planning to increase services for phase 2. There are decisions the Government has to make relating to whether it will move to phase 2 but what we are doing is putting in place all the plans and services necessary to provide some additional capacity on our bus services from next Monday.

I thank Ms Graham. If I may direct a final comment to Mr. Burgess, Ireland has always had a very good reputation for not pulling up the ladder on countries that are not as wealthy as we are here. It is nice to see that that is being maintained through this unprecedented crisis. What Irish Aid is doing is laudable and I want to pass on my congratulations and well wishes to the Department in that regard.

Mr. Niall Burgess

I thank the Deputy.

I have a question for Ms Graham. In terms of the current position, pre-crisis public transport at peak times was heavily congested with packed buses and trains. It is clear that there will not be a desire on the part of passengers to return to those sorts of services in the future. There has been a major modal shift in terms of people moving towards cycling in particular. I cycled in here today. In terms of that modal shift, in recent times the numbers one sees cycling, certainly in my constituency, are unprecedented. The mobility plans and the emergency funding are very welcome. I strongly support that but are there any plans to front-load or fast-track cycling infrastructure in particular that is in the pipeline and will be built in the next few years anyway? That is where we are moving to in terms of climate change and everything else, but if the funding was available, are there projects currently in the pipeline that could be brought forward and implemented faster?

Ms Anne Graham

That is the work that is ongoing with both Dublin City Council and the other local authorities.

It is to identify projects that can be put in place on a temporary basis, those that are planned and are part of the cycling or walking networks that are part of our transport strategies for all cities. Where possible, if local authorities can identify a space where a temporary barrier could be put to provide additional walking and cycling space, we want to receive those proposals so we can move as quickly as possible to put them in place. Dublin has started with the Liffey quays on the northside and a number of other projects such as that on Nassau Street. We want to see more and as much of those as possible put in place, particularly before we move into the later phases of the easing of restrictions.

The approach of temporary and emergency measures is the correct one, and the work that has been done and is being done is commendable. Beyond that, is permanent infrastructure in the pipeline or in the planning process? Is the capacity there, if funding is made available, to speed up the delivery of some of that long-term permanent infastructure? That is what I am really asking. Has an analysis been done of what could be brought forward?

Ms Anne Graham

Our first approach has been to do the emergency response, and we have to focus on that with the resources that we have. We have a dedicated cycling design office in place that had been working on more permanent plans, encouraging more permanent infrastructure, and bringing as many of those plans through the planning process for future funding; however, we have had to naturally divert to temporary crisis measures. We hope to move back to the more permanent measures and bring those plans forward as quickly as possible, but they will have to go through a planning, design, construction and tendering process.

There will be a growing demand to use personal electric scooters. Does Ms. Graham have a view on what needs to be done in terms of facilitating that?

Ms Anne Graham

There are legislative issues around the use of electric scooters and that is being looked at by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is not really our area to regulate, but the Department is looking at that.

Thank you, Deputy O'Callaghan. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

There are many issues impacted by Covid-19 in terms of transport. I do not have time to address all of them but as a general remark, while social distancing and Covid-19 is around, if we are going to maintain our public transport system it has to be on a not-for-profit basis. It will not be commercially viable, but we cannot do without it. We have to move to a not-for-profit approach. On aviation, we need to reconsider renationalising what used to be the national airline in order to maintain air infrastructure.

The main questions I wish to ask are about the taxi industry, which was briefly referred to my Ms Graham, but really it has been addressed in a cursory way. In response to a request sent through me from the four taxi representative groups, the Taoiseach said he would ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to meet these groups. I have still had no reply from the Minister. That is not Ms Graham's issue, I want to state that for the record. He should answer and agree to meet the four taxi representative groups because they are facing absolute devastation. I would urge that it is the case and I hope our committee would support that call. They are in serious trouble for all the obvious reasons. The crucial thing that has to be discussed is a roadmap and financial package of supports in order to keep the livelihood of taxi drivers sustainable.

I have some questions for Ms Graham. All licences that expired before 12 June for taxi drivers have an extension of three months. What happens to licences that expire after 12 June? Taxi drivers need certainty, they should have the extension and be given that commitment and certainty. The NCT and suitability tests need to be done in order to get a licence.

Given the financial hit that taxi drivers have taken would Ms Graham consider not charging for those? Could she tell us whether NCT and suitability tests could be done together rather than separately, which used to be the case? Can taxi drivers who choose to try to get back to work be prioritised for those tests? Regarding the state of the taxi industry, has Ms Graham information on how many taxi drivers are on the Covid-19 payment? Can she tell us how many are old-age pensioners over 66 who may be working but are not entitled to the payment?

A driver can suspend a licence for a year, but after that they have to pay a €500 reinstatement charge. While the public health situation remains uncertain, drivers may wish to suspend their licence for a longer period. Could that charge be waived, to give them some support? Also, could the ten-year rule for the age limit of cars be changed to a 15-year rule? Again, this is because of the financial cost that will be incurred by taxi drivers in replacing their cars after ten years, given that they are going to be in deep trouble.

Finally, there are no clear guidelines or support for taxi drivers in terms of health, or for standardised screens. There are also insurance issues. Could Ms Graham comment on that because it is a serious concern for many taxi drivers?

Ms Anne Graham

There are quite a number of questions there. We have indicated that we have extended all licences by three months until 12 June and we will review that in line with the SPSV suitability inspection centre reopening. We do not have an indication of when that will be or when the NCT centres will reopen. We will align our possible extensions with when the testing can be done but we are awaiting dates for when the testing centres will be available for taxi drivers. We will of course work with the test centres to try to get priority for tests to ensure that we can get as many taxi drivers as possible back into the system.

I do not have any information on the Covid-19 payment, that information would not be held by us. It is a Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payment and we do not have any information on which SPSV drivers have availed of that.

On the reinstatement, I might get back to the Deputy on that if he does not mind just to tease out a bit more what exactly he is asking there.

On the ten-year rule, we went out on consultation on an extension for one further year and that is what was agreed with our board. We will bring that back if the taxi drivers want to consider a longer rule. We prefer to extend it by just one year but, certainly, all of these things can be considered at any time.

We have outlined comprehensive guidelines on our website; it is very difficult for us to give very clear guidance on screens because of the different types of vehicles that are used by the SPSV sector. We have put in place guidelines on our website based on the public health advice.

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett. Regarding the matter which Ms Graham said she wanted to tease out with the Deputy, would she be prepared to do so by correspondence?

Ms Anne Graham


Thank you very much. I call Deputy Tóibín.

One of the most controversial decisions made by the Government around the handling of Covid-19 was on international travel because it is obvious that international travel seeded the virus in Ireland. At the time, many countries were stopping international travel. New Zealand is probably the best case in point. It prevented much of the virus coming into the country. I remember asking the Taoiseach why he would not stop flights coming in from northern Italy. He said that it was the advice of the European Centre for Disease Control, ECDC, that we not stop travel within the European Union.

My instinct at the time was that this was a decision being made around the European Union's movement of people policies, rather than the health of the people. It was a wrong decision and has obviously led to a higher number of fatalities in this country per capita from Covid than many other countries who locked down their borders at the time. In that regard, I note from the Department's presentation today that NPHET gave the advice to the Government on 3 April that there should be mandatory self-isolation for international travellers. It is shocking that mandatory filling of forms for international travellers was only introduced last Thursday. Once that form is filled, international travellers can come to Ireland and have no legal responsibility whatsoever to self-isolate. I ask the Department of Health's representatives why we are not making it legally mandatory for these individuals to self-isolate as other normal liberal democracies have done around the world.

That is the first question. The second question concerns another example where the Government deviated quite radically from the medical and scientific advice it was being given, namely, the advice relating to seasonal workers. At the time, I raised the issue that we had international seasonal workers arriving in Ireland to work on fruit farms and yet we have a bizarre situation in which Irish soldiers cannot return from abroad because of restrictions. At the time we had the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, state it was against best public health policy to have seasonal workers travel around the world in a pandemic and yet, today, seasonal workers can travel to Ireland without any restrictions.

I ask these two questions initially of the Department's representatives. Why has the Department deviated from best medical advice in those two areas?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I do not know that we have deviated. I need to be careful, as outlined in the introduction, that as a civil servant I am not commenting on the merits of Government policy one way or another in trying to give the context in which this was done.

The Deputy is correct that the ECDC stated border restrictions are, other than in very extreme situations, seen to be ineffective. The countries in Europe that imposed them were not able to prevent the virus entering the country.

Those countries that restricted international travel did a lot better than Ireland.

Mr. Jim Breslin

I do not think that is the case. We would have to go through them one by one but, for example, Italy had restrictions on Chinese travel from the off and probably had complacency on the issue as a result of that. In relation to New Zealand, it is a very different case. They are a long way from anywhere. We are right in the middle of a common travel area and the European Union with intense----

I do not want to interrupt and I apologise but my point, which Mr. Breslin makes in his own statement, is that NPHET gave the advice that there should be mandatory legal self-isolation for international travellers for the first 14 days. That has not been implemented by this Government two months later. We also have a situation whereby we were told by the Chief Medical Officer that the movement of seasonal travellers was against public health policy and yet it still is occurring.

Mr. Jim Breslin

In all those cases, the Government has to work through the various pieces of advice it has, including our international obligations and domestic, legal and constitutional issues. That is what the Government has asked the Minister for Health to do in relation to mandatory self-isolation. There is a process under way in relation to that. It remains the case that travel into the country is very low, at 1% of the normal rate.

On public transport, I have a quick question to ask of the representative of the NTA. What will be the cost to the public transportation system of the reduction in traveller numbers in the system in recent months? What will be necessary to pump into that system for the rest of the year to make sure that the capacity, the number of buses and the timetables are adhered to?

Ms Anne Graham

It is very difficult to give a definitive figure to the Deputy because it depends on the response of the Government over the next number of months in terms of social distancing and the response of the public in terms of returning to public transport following, hopefully, a full easement of all restrictions.

Fare revenue covers approximately 65% of the cost of operating public transport. If 80%, or a good proportion, of that is lost, it represents a significant shortfall in public transport service provision and covering the cost associated with that.

I thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the NTA. I have questions that could go on for an hour but I only have five minutes. There may have to be correspondence at a later stage. I pay tribute to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the staff in the Tánaiste's office and the people who helped my staff and myself. These people were on the phone 24-7 following our first call trying to get constituents in Cork South West out of Bolivia, and were engaged in the massive efforts to charter a flight to get more of our constituents from Peru. A massive effort was put into getting people back from Peru in particular. Putting all these pieces together and bring young people back home to very worried parents was a logistical nightmare, especially when Peru was officially closed. The Department provided us with information about available routes and connections for the doctors and nurses stranded in Australia, and made sure our constituents had seats on those flights. Information was provided to us and we were able to update our people in America, New Zealand, Denmark and Spain, and many other places, ensuring that people got home safely. I also thank the Department and the Tánaiste's office for helping us with emergency passports, again ensuring that our people were able to get back to work and get back to where they needed to go. The professionalism and the communication from the Department was very much appreciated by myself, my office and those who so desperately wanted to get home. I pay tribute to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, who had to intervene to ensure the safe homecoming of so many.

Now that circumstances are improving, we need to open our ports and airports. It is time we followed places such as Singapore with same day testing and results for everyone coming into the country, giving them the freedom, once results are received, to travel and enjoy our beautiful country. Do the witnesses see this as being part of the reopening of Ireland? If so, when do they think it can be put in place?

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, Ireland has repatriated 6,000 citizens, with approximately 1,000 still waiting to get home. Why have we had to rely on other countries to get our people home when countries such as Malta has its own military airlift transport?

To whom is that directed?

To the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The HSE might also answer the question on same day testing.

Mr. Niall Burgess

I will take the question on repatriation. We are working with approximately 1,000 people to get them home. Those are widely dispersed in all the regions that we already repatriated people from. We have relied very heavily on international co-operation to bring people home as quickly and effectively as possible. We accessed a European Union mechanism. The EU has repatriated close to 600 Irish citizens in an arrangement whereby we all work together to repatriate our citizens. We have worked with the UK, the US and Canada. We have also repatriated citizens from other countries. That network of international co-operation that has worked very well. We have not needed to draw on other resources to bring people back.

Does the Deputy want an answer on testing at airports?

Yes, if it is possible to get that answer.

Mr. Jim Breslin

I mentioned testing earlier. The ECDC advice is that the evidence base for that testing is unclear. The PCR test does not detect the virus at all stages. The incubation period is between two and 14 days so a person could be a few days into the virus without the virus being present in his or her respiratory tract or nasal passage.

They consider when they get symptoms that they are Covid-free when in fact they are not, so there are difficulties with implementing that type of an arrangement because before travel or as people arrive in the airport they could have contracted it en route but still not be shedding virus and be capable of being detected by the PCR test.

I thank Mr. Breslin. Time is running very tight. My next question is for the NTA. Private bus and coach operators are facing ruination and that will have major implications for us down the line. Are there any plans to get direct Government support or will there be a continuation of the wage subsidy scheme until the tourism transport sector returns to normal? Is it intended to provide Government grants to assist liquidity or to restore the fuel rebate? Are there any plans to reclassify the VAT status as per the situation that exists in Northern Ireland? Basically, are there any plans for the survival of bus and coach operators?

Ms Anne Graham

Many of the proposals have been put forward to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and they are under consideration. The commercial bus sector is an important part of the delivery of public transport across the State and we want to see it supported and for it to recover back to operating. The suggestions put forward by Deputy Collins have gone forward to the Department for consideration.

As I have thanked Mr. Breslin and his team many times, I take the opportunity to thank Mr. Burgess and the staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I also thank Ms Graham and the staff of the NTA. I know their people have been working around the clock and have put in extraordinary work and I want to recognise that work.

This question is for Mr. Burgess. I will start with the 1,000 citizens who are still waiting to come home. Several thousand are now back but it is concerning that 1,000 citizens around the world are still trying to get back and are not here. Could he give a quick update on when we hope to have them home and if any are in particularly urgent circumstances that require faster action?

Mr. Niall Burgess

There are always some citizens who are in urgent circumstances and with whom we are working particularly actively. It is very difficult to get a precise fix on the numbers of people who want to come home because people's assessment of their circumstances changes continuously. We had a very high caseload, for example, from New Zealand, but as the health situation there improved several citizens decided that they would be better and probably safer staying in New Zealand than taking the risk of long-haul travel.

At the moment, we have clusters of citizens in Latin America, especially in Argentina and Brazil. We have numbers wanting to get out of Brazil because of the evolution of the disease there, and it is particularly difficult because of the reduction in international traffic. We have clusters in Nigeria and in South Africa. We also have clusters in Asia, including Bangladesh.

Could we not charter flights to get them out?

Mr. Niall Burgess

We charter flights where we have a large number of citizens in one place or where we can bring citizens together to one place, but in many cases these are either small groups or they are quite widely dispersed. In those circumstances, working with other partners is often the most effective way of getting people back.

We also have a very significant number of people in the Canary Islands. Many of them are elderly and they are looking to come back in order to have health checks. Because flights are regularly posted and seats are posted for sale, they sometimes develop a false sense of security that they have a flight booked for 3 or 4 May and when the flight is cancelled then the frustration sets in. We are looking in particular at a cluster in the Canary Islands at the moment and we are urgently trying to get them back.

In the interests of time, there is one more question I want to ask so I will stop Mr. Burgess there if I may.

This really is a question for whoever the responsible body is. I have had a lot of people contacting me asking what the situation is on incoming travel. We understand that there are no restrictions on people going between the North and the South, but if people are flying in from Britain do they need to isolate themselves for two weeks? While there is now enforcement in terms of signing the forms, people are asking what happens after that. Is there anyone following up to check that people are isolating? If they isolate with friends or family, do the friends and family have to isolate, or do they essentially have to sit in their friends' house for two weeks while their friends go about their business?

Is there any enforcement in terms of what happens when people leave the airports after they sign forms? When do the witnesses believe these requirements will be eased? I have read through the roadmap, which states that, for all five phases, "Specific measures will be introduced at ports and airports.". I cannot find any statement indicating that the two-week isolation requirement will be waived. However, we know the requirement will be waived in Italy tomorrow and in other European countries in the next two or three weeks. I apologise to the Chairman for finishing with a very broad question.

Mr. Jim Breslin

On the position with overseas travel, which includes Britain, the public health advice is that there be a period of 14 days self-isolation. People travelling from Britain into Dublin Airport, for example, will be required to fill out the passenger locator form, including their intended address for their stay. If they were to change that address during the course of the 14 days, they will be required to update it. They will be subject to checks over the course of the 14 days - at day 2 and day 12 - to confirm that they are in the location they have declared. That is the current arrangement vis-à-vis travel from Britain.

Public advice was mentioned. As a matter of law, is there any requirement?

Mr. Jim Breslin

No. The requirement is to fill out the passenger locator form and it is an offence not to do so. It is also an offence to give wrong information or fail to update the information given. However, there is not a statutory regime of 14 days self-isolation, just as there is not such a regime for those in the country. As I said earlier, the Minister for Health has been asked by the Government to look at that and come back.

When should this measure be relaxed?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I do not have a firm view at this stage. We would have to see a number of things happen. We would have to see that we control the virus and community transmission. We would want to see a very narrow differential between the experience of countries from which people are travelling and our experience, such that those countries have the same experience of the disease as we do.

I thank Mr. Breslin. Is Deputy Colm Burke speaking for five or ten minutes?

I will speak for ten minutes. I thank the witnesses for their presentations and for all of the work that has been done in recent months. I dealt with a number of cases where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was of great assistance, in particular, involving people who were in Nepal, which is not the easiest place to get in or out of. As a result of co-operation between the Department and the European Commission, people were able to travel back to their homes.

What arrangement is in place for people who take a flight or ferry into Northern Ireland intending to travel to the South? Do they have to fill out forms in Northern Ireland? If so, is the information conveyed to the authorities in the South? Are there ongoing discussions on that issue, particularly with regard to people who decide to fly from South America to London and on to Northern Ireland, intending to spend a few days before travelling south?

We have peak hours for public transport because people need to travel to start work at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. That may change completely if companies decide to introduce shifts of, say, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Have discussions taken place with the public transport authorities on changing schedules to provide a higher level of transport when workplaces start to open up again? What discussions have taken place with employers and public transport companies?

What arrangements are in place to meet the requirements of pilots and airline staff who travel in and out of Ireland?

What process have we put in place for them when they come in here, in particular, if they have been in America or other places where there is a high incidence of Covid-19? I am wondering if there have there been any discussions with the employers about what they are doing to facilitate their staff.

Does anybody wish to respond?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I could take the last one, if that's all right.

Thank you, Mr. Breslin.

Mr. Jim Breslin

Regarding pilots and airline staff, in which group I would also include transport workers, hauliers, etc., the advice is not that they have to self-isolate. It would be impractical if they had to take 14 days every time they travelled over and back. The advice is very much to work with those sectors to put in place good public health practices so that they minimise their risk of exposure. We have worked with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to do that in those sectors.

What about work with the airline companies and the ferry companies on what additional supports they are providing to facilitate staff when they arrive back home?

Mr. Jim Breslin

The sectoral approach on which the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has worked with road hauliers, airlines and sea transport has been very much that each of those sectors would put in place good practice to support their workers to maintain their health throughout the process.

I refer to the need for public transport. There may be different peak hours now. Has there been a discussion on that? It may not be Mr. Breslin's area. It may be for the National Transport Authority.

Ms Anne Graham

I can respond to that. In terms of public transport, what we have seen is that the pattern of public transport usage has changed in recent weeks. Particularly, we have seen a much earlier peak in the morning associated with essential workers travelling earlier, and obviously also construction workers travelling. We have seen the peak between 6.30 a.m. and 7.30 a.m. whereas normal peak would be 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. We have also seen a peak at 3 p.m., which is not something one would normally witness on public transport. Usually, we have high peaks in the morning and a lower peak in the evening. That, I suppose, shows that we have many more shift pattern workers travelling on the public transport system.

In terms of what we can do, we engage closely with the public transport operators. At present, our Luas light rail service in Dublin is fully operational. There is no additional capacity available to operate Luas. We can provide additional capacity on our bus and rail systems but it is limited to an additional 20%. Then one needs to take off the 80% for social distancing.

There is no doubt there is limited space available on our public transport system with social distancing in place. However, we are encouraging more people, particularly office workers and those who can work from home, to continue to work from home to allow the available space to be used for those essential workers who cannot work from home. We are also looking to encourage the staggering of opening hours, particularly for retail coming back into operation because that would also ease and allow for the peak to be spread, both in the morning and in the late evening.

We will continue to engage with employers to encourage work from home, and where one must make a trip, if at all possible to make those trips locally and walk or cycle where possible to take the pressure off our public transport system.

I also asked about people travelling into Northern Ireland.

Mr. Niall Burgess

There are several categories of traveller involved. Passengers coming into Ireland from overseas are required to fill out the contract tracing form. People who cross the Border from North to South are not required to do so. People entering Northern Ireland from abroad are bound by the UK advice to travellers and by any restrictions that apply to them. Regardless of whether one is north of the Border or south of the Border, one is expected to observe the public health advice that applies in that jurisdiction.

Is there any process in place to convey the information gathered in Northern Ireland about a person coming into that jurisdiction who clearly indicates that he or she is travelling to the South and who undertakes to self-isolate in the South?

Mr. Niall Burgess

No. If somebody is coming into Northern Ireland from somewhere other than the UK, he or she is required to isolate for a period. If someone has travelled from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and then travels to the South, they are not obliged to notify anyone of that.

I know but is there a process in place to exchange information with regard to people who travel to Northern Ireland from outside the UK before travelling to the South?

Mr. Niall Burgess

If people are travelling to Northern Ireland from outside the UK, they should be isolating. We have not, however, imposed any additional restrictions on travel across the Border because the basic thrust of our policy is to ensure that cross-Border communities can continue to function and that maximum mobility is enabled.

Is there any process in place to share information?

Mr. Niall Burgess

There is continuous co-ordination between the chief medical officers in the North and South, between the health ministers, and between our Government and the Executive at several levels. I would have to defer to my colleagues from the Department of Health with regard to the sharing of health information.

Mr. Jim Breslin

I will ask Mr. Ó Conaill to come in on that issue.

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

With regard to contact tracing, the first case on this island, which arrived here in late February, involved information shared with the North by the South. If there was a case of an Irish person coming to the South via Northern Ireland, this would not pose a problem. That situation is provided for under the international health regulations. The issue of a standing arrangement for the sharing of information is being looked at as part of the process of mandatory self-isolation that is under way. Interdepartmental discussions are being held. We are in very regular contact with the authorities in Northern Ireland, including via the offices of the respective chief medical officers, which Mr. Burgess mentioned.

There is no process in place at the moment.

Mr. Jim Breslin

The UK authorities are instituting their arrangements as we speak. They will move towards a revised arrangement in the coming days.

In response to Deputy O'Rourke's question regarding those who had booked holidays for later in the summer, Mr. Burgess mentioned that the advice may change. Is that a signal to people who have holidays booked for late August that they may still be able to travel abroad for those holidays?

Mr. Niall Burgess

No, it is not. Our advice is essentially aimed at protecting the health and welfare of Irish citizens both when travelling and when abroad. Our advice evolves in light of the public health advice. I would not want to send a signal because I do not know how the advice will evolve over the coming months.

From the Department's point of view, although Mr. Breslin may also wish to answer, what are the triggers or what criteria will need to be met to allow for people to travel? What would need to change for people to be able to take the holidays they may have booked for late August?

Mr. Niall Burgess

The public advice here would need to evolve to a point where we were not advising people against travel off the island. That is the first criteria. The second factor we would look at is the public health situation in the country where people were planning travelling to. A third factor would be a sense of the safety of international travel. Essentially we are talking about a situation that is unprecedented and rapidly evolving. In the first three months of last year, we updated our travel advice on 130 occasions for different countries. In the first three months of this year we updated our travel advice 1,300 times. This is a tenfold increase and is because of the speed at which a local public health situation was evolving. It can evolve very rapidly. One can have a situation where the authorities in the Republic of Korea open up to international travel and then a few days later they impose restrictions around Seoul. It is very difficult to imagine a stable situation in the coming months where we will be able to give travel advice with a degree of assurance.

When Ryanair, Aer Lingus and others are saying that half their flights will start up again on 1 July, does Mr. Burgess expect the advice from the Department to be that no non-essential travel be undertaken?

Mr. Niall Burgess

The advice is that no non-essential travel should be undertaken, which is the advice that runs through the five phases. Until the start of phase 4, the advice is that no travel beyond a 20 km limit be undertaken. This is where our advice rests at the moment.

With regard to the locator forms, who makes the call and follows up to check on whether people are self-isolating?

Mr. Jim Breslin

Currently it is staff in the border management unit, under the Department of Justice and Equality.

Does Mr. Breslin know many staff are in that unit?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I do not know. It is not in my area, but one of the features of it is that because there is so little throughput currently. As I mentioned earlier, there is just 1% of traffic through. Basically all of those staff are available to do that now.

How many calls are done weekly?

Mr. Jim Breslin

The numbers of people coming through are very low. By and large when we look at the data, it is Irish people returning to Ireland. Mr. Burgess spoke about repatriation and much of that is still coming through. Some essential workers are coming through, but the numbers of people, compared to what we would be used to, is very low. It is down to 1% at this stage.

I cannot remember where I heard it, and I am not sure if it is correct, but I thought that the border management unit had only 50 or so staff. Is that within the ballpark?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

The border management unit is under the Department of Justice and Equality so I do not have exact figures on the number of staff there. For a rough ballpark figure 1,400 calls are made per week with regard to passengers coming through Dublin Airport.

How does that compare with the fact that 11,000 passengers have come through in the three weeks between 1 May and 23 May, with 33% of them being exempt? That is 2,500 calls that should have been made per week. Are 1,000 people being missed every week?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

I am reading from data made available to us by Department of Justice and Equality colleagues. It is not our area, we are not collecting the data and we are not making the calls. It appears, from my understanding of the information we have been given, that one is dealing with calls being made to all non-exempt passengers. If passengers are exempt, and there are certain grounds for exemption, then they are exempt. If passengers are not exempt from the forms, then calls are made. Successful call rates are running at approximately 66%. The balance, obviously, are unsuccessful calls. A second call is made then, as Mr. Breslin mentioned, 12 days after entry to the State. That is the arrangement and they are the-----

Mr. Ó Conaill said calls. Is that a visit or a telephone call?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

It is a telephone call.

Presumably it is a mobile call if it relates to visitors coming into the country.

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

It could be a mobile phone or a landline.

If it is a mobile phone, how does the Department know where somebody is when it phones him or her? Does it just ask the person?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

Exactly, yes.

I thank Mr. Ó Conaill.

What if somebody says, on the second day of the two-week period, that he or she was down at the beach with his or her family for the weekend? What would happen there and what would be the protocol?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

That is a matter for the border management unit and An Garda Síochána. As far as I understand, they have worked out arrangements. From figures we have relating to the forms, a very high percentage of people say they are at the location where they have said they will be. That is for the calls that get through.

I turn to Mr. Breslin in respect of the restrictions and the discussion relating to mandatory isolation, given that this is just guidance at the moment and there is no requirement on somebody to self-isolate, despite NPHET recommending that two months ago. Will that happen or is the idea of mandatory isolation finished? Mr. Breslin stated it is being looked at in a number of Departments but is serious consideration being given to mandatory isolation, with people being detained if they do not want to self-isolate? Is that the appropriate position, given that many other jurisdictions are reducing or releasing their restrictions and going in the opposite direction to us?

Mr. Jim Breslin

The issue is receiving detailed examination, although I do not know about serious consideration. The decision, ultimately, will be made by the Government. The work is being done not because the decision has been made but to inform the decision that will be made.

Has Mr. Breslin any indication of when that decision will be made?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I expect the work to be completed within the next couple of weeks.

As an indication to the wider sector, and I fully agree we have to be guided by the public health advice at all times, I turn to the requirement to self-isolate for two weeks on entry to the State regardless of which jurisdiction one is coming from or whether the virus there has a lower R-nought rate than we have at that point. Does Mr. Breslin expect that to be the position until the end of the summer or the end of the year, or does he foresee corridors being opened between European countries, jurisdictions and regions that will allow for travel into the country without a two-week isolation period to follow?

Mr. Jim Breslin

A couple of points are relevant, including the Government's roadmap. As Mr. Burgess said, when one looks at the transport section and maps it out, non-essential travel is advised against for all the phases. There are interesting developments, however, including at European level. The EU has identified that we should have a common approach to the lifting of restrictions and that there is scope to partner with countries that have similar epidemiological experience. Obviously, people will not want to partner with a country where the virus is undergoing community transmission and is out of control, but if a country has it under control, it is possible that reciprocal arrangements could be put in place. That would involve checks and balances from the public health authorities on both sides. In saying that, I am speculating. We will have to see how it goes at European level and be informed by the implementation of the roadmap here and by keeping the spread of the virus low within this country.

Has Mr. Breslin any idea of when we are likely to have sight of a roadmap in respect of the restrictions of entry into our jurisdiction? Given the low levels of support that exist in terms of grant aid, many people have asked me whether, while the tourism season is gone this year, it is gone for next year too. They say that if the restrictions continue, they will not be able to stay afloat. That is the kind of question they ask. Obviously, public health comes first over any economic consideration, but is there now a need to provide a roadmap for when these restrictions will be eased, if they are to be eased?

Mr. Jim Breslin

Nobody can give full certainty on this. A roadmap is very much a set of steps, the timing of which would have to be carefully monitored. In the first instance, while others have talked about people who might be considering booking flights, that would be premature. We are not at that stage. If people are talking about non-essential travel, and there may be a reason that somebody has to travel for essential purposes, entering into a financial commitment at this stage, when we face a number of phases and issues of uncertainty, would be premature and I certainly would not advise that.

I would be advising what the Government is advising, that is, that we should avoid non-essential travel. There are steps along the road, however, including for the tourism industry. If, having contained the virus, we can keep it at its low level, people will be able, as we move through the phases, to travel around the country for holiday purposes. We could see that, and it could be of significant benefit so long as we keep the virus level low. If we lose control of the virus, we will put all that at risk. In the period after that, there could be a relationship between this country and other areas of Europe in a similar position. It requires our experience and that of the other countries to evolve and for us to have a very low rate of transmission.

I thank Mr Breslin. If there is time at the end, Mr. Doherty may contribute again. I am aware that he had another question.

Listening to the scenario being painted for us today, it is clear to me that we are going to be in one serious economic mess all through this year and, indeed, next year. We now need to plan rapidly for the Irish tourism and transport sectors.

I am from Carlow–Kilkenny. As people were speaking and addressing questions, I could think only of its hospitality sector, from the smallest bed and breakfast business to the range of hotels, including Mount Juliet, which rely so heavily on tourists coming to this country. The number of people travelling to Ireland is down to 1%. Visitor numbers in Kilkenny Castle will drop dramatically and the businesses that rely on it will suffer seriously. That is what is being explained to us in stark detail today. The cancellations right across the sector are for both this year and next so there will have to be an urgent Government response if we are to keep afloat those that will be able to stay afloat beyond 2021. What is happening is quite shocking.

I have seen tourists who come to this country stop at Kilkenny Castle. They often come to Ireland through Europe in groups, including from Asia, and visit Kilkenny and various spots around it. What is happening is quite concerning. Whatever Government will be in power and those who are talking about Government formation would certainly want to consider this matter and devise a plan to rescue the sector.

Over 10,000 are employed in the coach travel sector. In addition, there are the various small bus operators that rely on tourism and the school bus operators. There is to be a frightening change to how they are going to approach their business. The operator of a 53-seater bus, valued at €350,000 plus VAT and requiring 80% capacity on any route, will now be able to carry only 13 passengers if all the regulations are applied. What is the plan to save the tourism sector? What is the plan to consider further the inclusion of the private sector on the public service obligation routes? Will there be 0% VAT? Will the private operators be allowed to reclaim the VAT considering the arrangements they had in the past? Will there be a refund of excise duty? These are all major questions that will have an impact on our economy and the finances of the State.

I ask the witness from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about international networks. I compliment Mr. Burgess, his officials and the Minister on their excellent response, and they are an example for others to follow in how they deal with matters immediately. What about the Department's networks? Are they engaging in order to try to have some sort of plan that is agreed within Europe and beyond in how to manage tourists? Will we see that type of plan emerging? If so, when will that happen?

There have been recommendations made to the Minister regarding transport. It was late April and May when representatives of the transport sector wrote to us and the Department but there is no plan there yet. There is an urgent need for a plan. The Department of Health did this with respect to private hospitals and so on. There is clearly an urgent need for a plan in order to save these sectors and for supports to be put in place immediately.

Mr. Niall Burgess

I will give two comments on tourism as far as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is concerned. We are continuing to work very closely with Tourism Ireland, as we have in recent months around the framing of recovery for the industry. We know, as it does, how important reputation is in selling Ireland to visitors in future. A really important element in that will be perceptions of safety, which is where the assurances around public and personal health here will be connected with the regrowth of tourism here.

There are actions we can do and are doing in the meantime to ensure the industry is positioned for a rapid recovery. Some of those are around keeping Ireland in mind as people's concerns turn to international travel and it becomes-----

Are you referring to people going to other countries?

Mr. Niall Burgess

Many societies have become more inward-looking and many people are not thinking about international travel. Even at the very start of this pandemic, much work was done around the greening initiatives, which were sustained through St. Patrick's Day not as a way of saying people should come to Ireland now but rather to indicate that Ireland is a good place to visit and will continue to be in future. Those are two important platforms for the future.

I will turn to the matter of passengers arriving in the State. We know they are expected to self-isolate for 14 days. The necessity for this is obvious but practical problems arise for business persons and tourists entering the country as various European borders are opened. If a person decides to have a Covid-19 test and it is negative, is this sufficient to satisfy regulations governing the person entering the country? I am not sure if Mr. Burgess or Mr. Breslin will take that.

Mr. Jim Breslin

I will take that one. No, it is not sufficient. The normal public health guidelines arise and there is a period after which a person can be tested and the virus is not detected where that person might develop and shed the virus. It is not possible to just take a test and think a person does not have to do 14 days of self-isolation.

I thank Mr. Breslin for clarifying that as the question has come up a few times. I also compliment the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on its co-operation, especially at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. There were so many Irish people who wanted to come home and I made contact several times myself. The Department staff's professionalism in that contact was very much appreciated.

Mr. Burgess indicated in his opening statement that 1,000 citizens are dispersed across many countries, some in remote locations, with an interest in returning home. The Department is working with them to provide advice and help. I was contacted recently by somebody from Dungarvan who is now in Morocco. Does the help come in the form of consular assistance or is some financial aid still available for when airlines can move again?

Mr. Niall Burgess

Help takes many forms. In some cases it is simple advice and guidance and putting people in touch with people who can get them home. That is at the lower end of the spectrum. At the high end of the spectrum, it is an actual repatriation on an Irish Government chartered flight, and then there is a full range of situations in between.

We have been working with partner organisations as well in respect of people who are made vulnerable because they cannot come home or access supports. We try to give them advice or guidance or work with organisations that can support them in practical terms. We have earmarked some €2 million for support to those organisations. People who are stranded are particularly vulnerable. The whole objective of the exercise is to make sure that they are supported as best we can do so while they wait to come home.

I thank Mr. Burgess. My next question is for Ms Graham. First, she said earlier that much of the public transport capacity intended to be used in phase 2 has already been used up by what are thought to be non-essential journeys. Does she believe that will be an issue when, hopefully, we move into phase 2 next Tuesday? Second, I believe a 55-seater bus can now carry 14 people adhering to social distancing measures. I know that, technically, this area does not come under Ms Graham's brief but what recommendations will the NTA be making in terms of school services and the practical challenges we face in transporting children to and from school, hopefully in September?

Ms Anne Graham

In terms of the transport capacity, we are planning to provide additional capacity for the phase 2 lifting of the restrictions but, even then, we will be trying to discourage non-essential travel and reducing even the non-essential travel that is happening now following phase 1. We are planning to have as much transport capacity as possible available to ensure that social distancing can be maintained at 2 m on our system. What we are trying to do is spread the load across the day to try to get people travelling at times they would not normally travel. Our advice is that if someone can do so they should continue to work from home and only make essential journeys, even for phase 2 of the lifting of the restrictions and if they do need to travel, they should consider walking or cycling as part of their journey.

We are not in a position to make any recommendations in respect of school transport services. Obviously, social distancing cuts across all transport services, including school transport.

I thank Ms Graham.

I have a couple of questions, one of which is to convey a query. I was contacted by a company which is developing a renal dialysis unit in a hospital in Ireland and it requires specialist engineers from the UK to travel to Ireland. The company is a little unclear as to whether those engineers are legally required to self-isolate for 14 days when they come here and then start working or can they come here and start working? I am aware that the public health advice is to self-isolate but are they legally required to self-isolate?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I will not give an opinion on the fly on a particular case but there are essential workers. They would include healthcare and engineering workers where the issue that they are engineering is an essential service to which specific arrangements apply. As long as they take precautions, they can avail of an exemption from the 14-days self-isolation requirement.

My understanding is that the company has sought clarification and is unable to get it. Is there any place that this company, and companies like it, can get clarification on that point to ensure that Ireland can be clear on the matter? Even if it is as clear as mud to people who live here what they can and cannot do, that would ensure that at least people from abroad can be clear on what they can do.

Mr. Jim Breslin

Given that it is a healthcare service that is being maintained, the HSE would be in a position to advise on that.

Can I ask the HSE representative if it has a unit or a contact point for such queries?

Mr. Jim Breslin

Equally, I am happy, given the Chair has raised it, to get some details and liaise with the HSE on it.

Not on this specific case; this is just one instance.

There are, I am sure, a number of companies that would like to find out what exactly they can and cannot do lawfully in Ireland. Is there currently a unit they can contact?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

To clarify some confusion, the Chairman asked if it was a legal requirement in terms of self-isolation at present. Self-isolation is the strong public health advice; it is not a legal requirement. When people come in to the country, the legal requirement concerns the passenger locator form. Both ourselves and our HSE counterparts are being contacted in the main by the Departments of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Transport, Tourism and Sport, as well as other colleagues across Government. There is no single email address but we can come back with-----

Just to be clear, it is not a legal requirement for anybody, even people who want to go to a stag party in Santa Ponsa and come back? It is a recommendation and not a legal requirement?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill


The legal requirement is to fill in the form, is that correct?

As my colleague, Mr. Breslin, said in his opening statement and made clear, it is being looked at as a requirement for the Minister of Health, in co-ordination with colleagues across Government, to look at mandatory self-isolation-----

I understand they will have-----

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

It is not mandatory at present.

They will have completed looking at it within a week, so we will know then whether they intend to introduce the legal requirement. Is that correct?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

It is intended that the interdepartmental discussions will be concluded and a proposal prepared within a week.

Is it fair to say that for a person from the Republic of Ireland going on holidays and who flies out of Belfast and returns into Belfast, there is no requirement to fill in a form on arrival into the Irish State? Similarly, if one is from Northern Ireland and flies out of and returns to Dublin for one's holiday flights, there are no forms either.

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

Yes. It is clear that passengers arriving from Northern Ireland are exempt from completing the passenger locator form.

Is it fair to say the only place one cannot holiday, if one is Irish, is Ireland?

Mr. Colm Ó Conaill

Could you repeat the question?

The only place one cannot holiday is Ireland.

Mr. Jim Breslin

I do not know, but I do not think so. Hopefully, that it will be the place we get to holiday. We are all hoping that is the case. Both our own arrangements and the fact that the UK is implementing arrangements for mandatory self-isolation would mean people coming into those countries from outside the common travel area would face 14 days' self-isolation. That is the advice in our case at the moment and is shortly to be mandatory in the UK.

Are we relying on the UK to bring clarity to the situation, given the success it has enjoyed to date?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I will not comment on the policy of another government, whatever about the current-----

Deputy Foley referred to tourism. There are a number of self-catering providers where people come and stay. It is not like a hotel where they have contact with other people and there is an increased risk of disease spreading etc. In accordance with the roadmap, when can self-catering accommodation open up to inbound tourists? Irish tourists are bound by the kilometre maximum but tourists who are coming in to the country are not. When can self-catering tourist providers open up?

Mr. Jim Breslin

In respect of Irish people, at some point, subject to the roadmap and the lifting of the advice to stay at home but to stay within the country. Our advice at the moment in terms of non-essential travel into the country is equally relevant. Until that changes, the Government would not encourage people to travel into Ireland for tourism purposes.

Your message to people who are thinking about coming to Ireland for tourism is to stay at home.

Mr. Jim Breslin

Until our roadmap changes.

At what phase will the message no longer be stay at home, but come to Ireland and enjoy, spend money, and sustain jobs there?

Mr. Jim Breslin

I can do no more than say what the roadmap says, otherwise I am looking in a crystal ball trying to-----

What phase of the roadmap will it be that will enable people to come to Ireland from abroad and go to self-catering accommodation?

Mr. Jim Breslin

It will depend on our transmission of disease and what phase we are able to move to but it will also depend on where individuals are coming from. If they are coming from Brazil we would have a view on that. If they come from a place where they have succeeded in getting low transmission and have kept it stable, and we have developed a reciprocal arrangement, then that is something that may be possible at further phases. I cannot give any guarantees on that.

I take it that it is not at any phase at the moment.

Mr. Jim Breslin

What we have said is that the assessment of that would continue to evolve over the course of the roadmap. The fact that the EU has put in place a framework for the lifting of restrictions is relevant to that. It was not available when the roadmap was first done.

Okay, so it is not envisaged in any phase at the moment. It is not part of any phase right now?

Mr. Jim Breslin

It is not in any of the phases that we have currently.

I thank the witnesses for answering my questions, and indeed the questions of all committee members. I would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representatives here in the Chamber.

I will suspend the meeting, provisionally until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, until we confirm whether we are going ahead with the session then or not. If not, then we will suspend until next Tuesday at 11 a.m.

The committee adjourned at 6.35 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 June 2020.