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legal fears Hotel charges for quarantine 'may be illegal', Attorney General warns

Central to the legal concerns are EU citizens' right to free movement throughout member states.

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The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry where travellers are staying as part of mandatory quarantine regime. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry where travellers are staying as part of mandatory quarantine regime. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry where travellers are staying as part of mandatory quarantine regime. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

HEALTH Minister Stephen Donnelly's plan to increase the number of countries on the State's hotel quarantine list is in jeopardy due to serious legal concerns.

Attorney General Paul Gallagher has written to Mr Donnelly warning it may be illegal to charge EU citizens to stay in mandatory quarantine hotels.

Several Government sources said Mr Gallagher raised a range of legal issues affecting the proposal to add more countries to the list and he highlighted potential difficulties in charging Irish citizens travelling from EU states for two weeks confinement in hotels.

Central to the legal concerns are EU citizens' right to free movement throughout member states.

There are also believed to be potential issues with quarantining tens of thousands of Irish citizens who live, work or study within the EU.

A Government source said the issue had not arisen before now as Irish citizens did not regularly travel to or live in the countries on the original quarantine list.

However, Austria is currently on the quarantine list - and passengers arriving from there are required to pay for mandatory hotel quarantining.

Acting on the advice of the Travel Expert Advisory Group, Mr Donnelly sought to add a number of EU states to the quarantine list this week including France, Germany and Italy. Mr Donnelly also wanted to add the US.

Sources said the expert travel group wanted to change the criteria for hotel quarantining to include countries with high incidence rates of Covid not just nations where there are concerns about new variants of the virus.

Mr Donnelly is in negotiation with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney over how many countries can be added to the existing list of 33 nations.

The proposed new list was to include 43 countries which have variants of concern or where Covid cases are greater than 500 per 100,000 of the population.

One source said the Attorney General's letter "goes as far as to say that if Health imposes this on EU citizens it may be illegal, or it may be illegal to charge them money.

"Which begs the question if it's legal to charge Irish citizens," the source added.

The same source said: "Given that they didn't check any of this, it makes you wonder who exactly the experts on this 'expert travel panel' are."

Another source said Mr Gallagher raised a "whole host of issues" with Mr Donnelly's plan to add more countries to the quarantine list.

On Tuesday Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he expected more countries to be added to the list. But he did not say which ones.

Mr Donnelly's spokesperson said he "would not comment on an on-going legal discussion".

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney said: "The required consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs has not happened yet."

The cost of a quarantine stay is €1,876 per adult. There are limited exemptions on health grounds.

Passengers must complete a Covid passenger locator form and provide evidence that they have had a negative Covid test carried out 72 hours before they arrived into Ireland.

Their mandatory quarantine could be cut short if their test comes back negative on day 10 of their stay.

Mandatory hotel quarantining applies to people arriving from South Africa, Brazil, Angola, Austria, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Eswatini, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, UAE, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

It will also apply to those arriving from South American countries such as Argentina.

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