The open border with Northern Ireland is the 'main reason' why the Government won’t introduce mandatory quarantine for arrivals into the country, according to the Green Party leader.
Eamon Ryan says ‘political sensitivities’ in the North limit the ability for authorities on both sides of the border to cooperate.
Travel restrictions have become a major concern in recent days and weeks amid particular concerns over the more transmissible strains of COVID-19, with most opposition parties now calling for stricter border controls.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has said a 'strict quarantine system' is needed to drive coronavirus cases down to low double digits - saying the alternative is rolling lockdowns and strict restrictions.
Prominent experts have also urged the Government to introduce mandatory quarantine for those who arrive into the country, similar to what is in place for countries such as New Zealand.
NPHET has also warned that the current restrictions are not enough.
While all arrivals into the country must have evidence of a negative PCR test within the 72 hours before arriving here, Dr Tony Holohan told the Government in a recent letter that a “pre-travel test alone is not a sufficiently robust system for the prevention of disease importation”.
He said: “Many EU countries have adopted more stringent travel policies to meet these new risks. These include combinations of pre-departure testing, quarantine requirements on arrival and post-arrival testing rules.”
Speaking today, deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn says they have previously asked for mandatory quarantine for international travellers - but it's up to politicians to decide if that can work.
On today's Newstalk Breakfast, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan acknowledged that a PCR test 'doesn't give full-proof cover' - but said it is an extra layer of protection.
He said: “We have to look and do more because of these new variants... we want to get to the end of this safely.
"As soon as we heard about this UK variant and increased transmission, the next day we introduced a ban on travel."
Antigen testing and quarantine
Minister Ryan said one measure being introduced will be rapid antigen testing for hauliers, amid requests for such measures from other EU countries such as France.
However, in terms of mandatory quarantine, he said Northern Ireland is the 'main reason' why that's not happening here.
He said: "We have an open border, and we won’t seal that border.
“We’re constantly in touch with colleagues up North and with the UK... in terms of looking always for cooperation.
"But there are political sensitivities around that up North, and so it isn't something that's in our remit. We don't have complete control."
In terms of the current level five restrictions, Minister Ryan said the immediate focus is on getting Leaving Cert and special needs students back into classrooms.
He said it's likely wide restrictions will be eased by St Patrick's Day, but measures for 'some categories' such as construction will be eased before that.