The Government will learn lessons from the unauthorised departures of three people from mandatory hotel quarantining, Simon Coveney has said.
The Foreign Affairs minister conceded that Saturday’s incidents, on the second day of the arrangements, were “not ideal”.
Three people absconded from the first operating quarantine hotel – the Crown Plaza in Santry near Dublin Airport – in two different incidents on Saturday.
Two have since returned to the hotel. Gardai were continuing to hunt for the third on Sunday.
The Defence Forces and private security guards are involved in monitoring compliance with the rules at hotel quarantine facilities, but they do not have the powers to stop people leaving.
If a person leaves without authorisation before the end of their quarantine period it is a criminal offence and gardai are notified.
Asked if the powers needed to be bolstered to ensure people were preventing from leaving, Mr Coveney said the Government was keen to ensure the hotels were not turned into “aggressive detention centres”.
“What we’re trying to do is ensure that while people are staying in quarantine, it’s a hotel atmosphere that they’re living in – for their children, for themselves, for their mental health, for the frustrations that undoubtedly builds up over up to 14 days staying in a hotel room when you’re only allowed out for a walk for a couple of times a day,” he told RTE Radio One.
“We are trying to create as normal an atmosphere as possible in these hotels, rather than some kind of military detention centre.”
He added: “Any country that has introduced mandatory hotel quarantine has had problems.
“This is not a straightforward process. That’s why no other country in the EU is doing it except Ireland.
“But we believe it’s justified to keep new variants out of the country and to manage the spread of this virus from abroad. So we’re committed to it, we’re going to make it work.
“The Defence Forces are present on site, but they’re not there to stop people leaving, they’re there in a supervisory capacity to make sure that all the protocols are operating as they should.
“If somebody leaves a hotel that’s being used for mandatory quarantine, then the guards will be notified straight away and they’ll take the appropriate action which is what’s happening here.
“Obviously on the first day of operation, it’s not ideal that people have tried to leave, but you know we will deal with issues as they emerge. We will learn lessons as we go.”
A Defence Forces vehicle at Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)
Addressing concerns about the conditions and space in hotel rooms, particularly for families, Mr Coveney said: “Hotel quarantine is meant to be, one, a deterrent to people to send a very clear signal that from certain parts of the world you should not be travelling to
Ireland right now. In fact, you shouldn’t be travelling to Ireland from anywhere in the world, unless it’s absolutely required to travel.
“These are not facilities that I think people will look forward to staying in.
“Having said that, we have to ensure that we provide a guaranteed minimum standard to make sure that children in particular, but also adults and families, are looked after properly.
“Of course there will be an inspection system and a supervisory system to make sure that that’s the case.”
The Tifco Hotel Group is the service provider for hotel quarantining in Ireland.