‘Clarity needed' over vaccine travel for Irish passport holders from NI
Politicians have urged the Irish Government to provide clarity on when people from Northern Ireland who hold Irish passports will be able to use the new EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC).
The DCC was introduced in the Republic on Monday as part of a EU-wide scheme which will allow unrestricted international travel for those who are fully vaccinated.
The documents can also be used for indoor hospitality when it reopens later this month.
But most Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland will not be able to access the certificate at first because they were vaccinated outside of the Republic.
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said the DCC is only available to those who were vaccinated by the HSE, the Irish health service..
He added: “Irish passport holders vaccinated elsewhere will be given a certificate in ‘phase two’ of the rollout. At the moment, however, we don’t know when this will be.
“I have been informed that in the meantime, those vaccinated elsewhere can still travel if they show their proof of vaccination in the airport.
“I find the situation to be massively unclear and disappointing.
“I’ve raised this with the Taoiseach (Micheal Martin), Minister for Health (Stephen Donnelly) and my party colleagues, and I’ll continue to do so until we get clarity on this.”
Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said “people who live across the island who hold an Irish passport should be able to access” the DCC.
She added: “I have raised the case with the Department of Health, and I have asked for a call with the Taoiseach.
“The issue needs resolved quickly. Many will choose to stay at home this year and holiday in Ireland, they need to have the same opportunities to go to a restaurant or take their children out for something to eat. This issue needs to be resolved speedily.”
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: “We were given undertakings repeatedly that this matter would be resolved because it is a question of establishing who has been vaccinated. The argument seems to be those who are vaccinated somewhere outside of the jurisdiction, outside of the state, that creates a problem.
“With proper information sharing surely that’s easy to surmount. We live on a small island, we are a small population. People live and work north to south, so the systems across the island have to be flexible enough and responsive to recognise that reality.
“We will be raising it again and we look forward to a speedy resolution.”
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health is introducing an “international travel app” for those who are fully vaccinated. It is expected to be ready by next week.
SDLP MLA for East Londonderry Cara Hunter said: “There are still outstanding issues around people from the north travelling to the Republic of Ireland. We need official confirmation from those in the Republic of Ireland and the EU that the north’s certificate will be accepted as proof of vaccination without issue.
“It is also regrettable that Irish passport holders in the north will not be able to access the EU Digital Covid Certificate.
“It has been made available to citizens in a number of non-EU countries, but is not accessible to Irish citizens living in the north as the Irish Government has no official record of their vaccination.
Meanwhile, a call centre to deal with queries relating to the EU Digital Certificate was fully operational from Monday.
While it is overseen by the Department of Health, it is run on a day-to-day basis by a private firm.
Since going live, people have reported lengthy delays in reaching an operator.
Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State, said there have been issues with the helplines.
She said: “I can assure you that Government is working very hard in order to get that system back up and running.”