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Ireland's new green list brings traffic lights for travel, but little by way of clarity

Pól Ó Conghaile


The problematic 'green list' will be updated, before Ireland opts into a new European 'traffic light' system for travel next month. So what does it all mean?

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An Aer Lingus jet prepares to land at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in 2010. Photo: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An Aer Lingus jet prepares to land at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in 2010. Photo: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bloomberg via Getty Images

An Aer Lingus jet prepares to land at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in 2010. Photo: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Finally, there is certainty on travel. Well, kind of. In a way. Or at least, a little less uncertainty. Or is there?

If yesterday’s brief announcement on Ireland’s Green List, and confirmation of the Government’s intention to opt in to a proposed Europe-wide ‘traffic-light’ system for safe travel confused you – welcome to the twilight zone in which holidaymakers and pretty much anyone who works in tourism or aviation has been living for months.

Here’s what we know. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland will “broadly support” the European Commission’s colour-coded system for a common approach to travel. Based on weekly updates, ‘Green’ countries will have fewer than 25 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 in a 14-day period; ‘Orange’ fewer than 50 cases; ‘Red’ more than 50.

The proposal won’t be adopted until at least October 13, but, in the meantime, Ireland’s Green List will be taken down from the shelf on which it has been gathering dust since August 4, and updated more or less by this method.

As I write, that means Germany, Poland and Cyprus are in, while Greece, Italy, Hungary and Slovakia are out – for now. The list will be updated weekly, and given the way cases have been yo-yoing all over the world lately, it’s not exactly going to make it easier for holidaymakers to book, or for those in the tourism and travel trade to plan ahead, for the coming weeks – not to mind the coming year.

Here’s what we don’t know. What will happen between now and mid-October? A week is a long time in politics, but an eternity in a pandemic. Who else will opt in to the EC system? (It’s non-binding.) Will Ireland reliably update its list this time?

Will TDs and public-health experts be on board, or continue to say they would prefer if we stayed on the island?

And whatever happened to that testing and tracing system we were told was being discussed specifically for travel?

The travel industry knows a can kicked down the road when it sees one. Ryanair condemned “more delay and indecision”.

Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association, said the Government had gifted his beleaguered sector another month of stress. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation said the measures, “although an improvement, will do little to benefit the Irish tourism industry”.

Travel thrives on certainty – be it sun holidays or inbound tourists. Instead, we’ve had chaos for months. That is primarily due to the pandemic, of course – but it has been exacerbated by the spaghetti of rules and restrictions issuing from individual countries, by the speed at which they change, and by Ireland’s mixed messaging and inaction.

Moving towards ‘traffic lights’ at least signals some direction, but a few broad lines in a six-month plan don’t go far enough. The industry wants specifics on supports and testing now.

On that at least, we have clarity.

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