Husband and wife were detained after returning from Edinburgh
Health Minister Robin Swann is to speak to his counterpart in the south after a Northern Ireland couple were placed in a Dublin quarantine hotel after they travelled to the Republic from Scotland.
The husband and wife, known only by their first names Mark and Judith, were detained and were “read their legal rights” at Dublin Airport on Sunday after flying into the Republic from Edinburgh.
Two days earlier, the couple, who have three children, flew out of the same airport after travelling from their home here.
However, on their return flight they were stopped by an airport official who asked the couple if they had undertaken a PCR test.
Mark, speaking on Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on Tuesday, said he had checked with the gov.uk website and believed they were not required to do so under current guidance.
"My wife and I flew out to Edinburgh last Friday and we had a look at the gov.uk website and it said that if you haven't left the island of Ireland for 10 days there was no need for a PCR test,” he explained.
"We flew out and there was no issues and it was the same on the way back. We checked online using my phone as normal and we went to board the plane and one of the guys asked me for a PCR test and I asked if it was necessary as we hadn't left the UK or Ireland in the last 10 days.
"And he said the legislation's changing all the time, but yes I believe you're right, on you go board onto the plane.”
On arrival at Dublin Airport’s immigration Mark recalled that he was then asked to disclose if they had undertaken a PCR test, and was then informed under the Irish rules the test should have been carried out prior to their flight to Dublin.
"At which point he said we would have to go into quarantine holding until a negative PCR test is returned,” he said.
"And then we were actually read our rights as if we had broken the law, which I suppose we may have done but it was a bit degrading and a bit embarrassing to be stood there while others were listening.”
He described the set-up at the Croke Park Hotel as a “glorified prison”, explaining: “You're not allowed to leave and if you do want to leave, you have to apply for a movement break and you're escorted into an internal courtyard which is about 30m by 50ms and all you can do is walk in a square.
"And it's only allowed 20 minutes per day."
"It's a glorified prison. Yes, it's nicer in that it's a hotel but ultimately you have no more freedoms than a prisoner would have."
They were then escorted by "armed guards" to the quarantine hotel where PCR tests are performed, said Mark.
The gov.uk website stipulates that all passengers arriving in the Republic from Great Britain — including travellers from Northern Ireland who have been in GB in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the Republic — must quarantine for 14 days.
"Passengers are requested to arrange a COVID-19 Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test to be taken at least five days after arrival in Ireland,” the website states.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs also states, in addition to the 14-day quarantine, “all passengers (apart from a limited number of exemptions) must have a negative pre-departure RT-PCR Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival in Ireland”.
"Arrivals whose journey has originated in GB can get a second RT-PCR test no less than five days after arrival, and if they receive a negative result, they can end their period of quarantine then,” it continues.
Mark stressed the situation had been made even more stressful given his wife’s medication due to previous treatment for thyroid cancer had run out, prompting back-and-forth with Irish officials to ensure she would eventually get access it.
He added it had also been “distressing” being apart from their children.
"Other people on the flight from Northern Ireland who also didn't have the PCR test who aren't in the quarantine hotel,” he claimed.
The situation prompted the couple’s Upper Bann DUP MP, Carla Lockhart to demand an overhaul of the travel arrangements within the Common Travel Area (CTA).
“We need a root and branch look at travel within CTA at how UK citizens are being treated when they are coming into Republic of Ireland, when republic of Ireland [citizens], I understand, can fly into Northern Ireland without any significant checks or requirements for quarantine,” she said.
"There needs to be quality across the board there."
She added that she had contacted Mr Swann and his Irish counterpart, Stephen Donnelly to urge for both to intervene and help the couple.
TUV leader Jim Allister told the Belfast Telegraph he has written to Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Simon Coveney, Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs to voice his concern over the way the couple has been treated by authorities in the Republic.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health has revealed that Mr Swann will be discussing the matter with Mr Donnelly.
"Minister Swann will be in contact today with his counterpart in Republic of Ireland,” said a department spokesperson.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.