Covid-19: Government row erupts over plan to expand mandatory quarantine

Anger in Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to Department of Health plan

A major row has erupted within Government over plans by the Department of Health to extend mandatory hotel quarantine to 43 additional countries, including the United States, France and Germany.

The Attorney General wrote to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly expressing concerns about the plans which have left other Ministers and the European Union “furious”, senior sources confirmed.

A source with knowledge of the Attorney General’s letter said it was “very clear” in expressing concerns that health officials had not followed the correct process or adhered to the legislation the Oireachtas passed on quarantine when formulating their advice.

Hospital Report

There is concern in Government that the recommendation to add the countries has “over-reached” and has “misinterpreted the law we passed”, and that European treaty rights and human rights have not been fully considered.


There is considerable anger in the Department of Foreign Affairs around the proposal, it is understood.

The recommendation has raised a series of issues including around whether or not there is enough space in the existing hotels, what would be done about citizens who are ‘stranded’ and cannot afford quarantine and what would happen to essential workers.

There is also concern that the EU was not fully consulted and that the plans could represent a “major breach” of European citizens’ rights to travel freely. There are further fears about an impact on the Common Travel Area, given it has been proposed that the Isle of Man be included in the list of high-risk countries.

Government sources say they believe the plans were being progressed by health officials without asking for advice or feedback before making the recommendation.

However, sources in the Department of Health have pushed back against this idea and said that the consultation period is happening now, as would normally be the case after recommendations are made.

While there has been some speculation that Mr Donnelly could sign off on the plans without the full agreement of his Cabinet colleagues, this would be viewed as a “big political risk”.

Some in Government believe that if he did this, the new arrangements could be struck down in the courts.

Sources in the Department of Health maintain that officials were fully cognisant of the law and that there is provision in the legislation to add countries for reasons other than that they have concerning variants.

Vaccination programme

Meanwhile, the Government is coming under increasing pressure following its decision to change the national vaccination programme to an age-based system rather than one also focused on profession.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was last night forced to defend the change after Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan said the Government had “scrapped the list” of people who expected to be vaccinated sooner, such as teachers and gardaí. While Mr Varadkar said the list of workers and professions had never been fully defined, he also said there should have been greater consultation with unions and stakeholders.

Minister for Education Norma Foley told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party the rationale for changing the vaccine priority list must be explained.

Apart from teachers, gardaí are also deeply unhappy about the changes.

The leadership of the Garda Representative Association is to consider the issue at a meeting on Thursday.

Separately, The Irish Times has learned that the changes to the strategy were discussed last week by a powerful group of officials. The secretaries general of the departments of Justice, Education and Children – whose Ministers raised concerns about the move at Cabinet – all have attended recent meetings of the senior officials’ group.

Senior coalition sources said the changes were discussed at the Cabinet subcommittee on Monday evening, but only briefly.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Cliff Taylor

Cliff Taylor

Cliff Taylor is an Irish Times writer and Managing Editor

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times