The Government is working on bringing in a “robust” Covid-19 test and screening system for passengers at our airports, including Shannon, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has confirmed to Clare TD Joe Carey.

Deputy Carey, who is chair of the all-party Shannon Airport Oireachtas Group, has repeatedly called for a comprehensive testing and tracking system to minimise travel risks associated with international travel to replace blanket restrictions. This is also a key recommendation made in the Aviation Recovery Task Force report to the Government.

Deputy Carey raised the issue of ongoing airport restrictions in a parliamentary question to Minister Ryan. He asked if the Government would consider following the example of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, which is currently trialling a pre-departure Covid testing system for passengers.

In his response, Minister Ryan said Ireland will “broadly support” the European Commission proposals for an EU common approach to Covid-19 international travel, whereby testing would be considered as a viable alternative to travel restrictions.

The minister added: “My Department is engaging with colleagues across Government, including with [the] Department of Health and the HSE, to explore the possibility of a robust testing and screening regime for international travel. In addition, my Department is continuing to engage with the aviation industry on the feasibility of airport testing, including pre-departures testing.”

The minister also confirmed to Deputy Carey that he hopes to bring forward a “Memo for Government” concerning international travel within the next fortnight.

Deputy Carey welcomed the minister’s response, but he stressed the need to implement a test and trace system at our crisis-hit airports as soon as possible.

The local Fine Gael TD said: “Time is of the essence. Ryanair has threatened to pull out of Shannon and Cork for the winter if the Government does not implement the EU traffic light system to allow for a return of international air travel, while Aer Lingus’ transatlantic and Heathrow flights remain grounded.”

Deputy Carey added: “Of course we must do everything we can to ensure the safety of the public, passengers and airline staff, but best international practice has shown us it is vital to bring in an innovative testing regime to replace blanket restrictions that are strangling our airports and decimating our entire aviation sector.”

The Clarecastle-based TD again underlined the vital strategic importance of Shannon Airport to Clare and the entire Mid-West and West regions.

Deputy Carey said: “We have 140,000 people working in the aviation sector in Ireland, many of whom work in the Shannon region. Our aviation sector provides a huge amount of direct and indirect jobs, in Shannon Airport itself but also in supporting highly skilled jobs in MRO (manufacturing, repair, overhaul) and in aircraft leasing. In addition, the connectivity delivered through Shannon is of critical importance for business and tourism.”

Deputy Carey has also highlighted the need for an immediate stimulus package for Shannon Airport with Minister Ryan.

In response to a separate parliamentary question asking when this assistance would become available, the minister said further supports are being considered as part of the ongoing Budget negotiations.

Minister Ryan told the Clare TD: “I can assure the Deputy that the importance of these airports to the regions is well understood by Government. The Deputy will also be aware that I have committed to undertaking an examination of the future viability and sustainability of Shannon Group, and I will consider restructuring measures, financial supports and any other measures that may be necessary and appropriate as part of this wider review of Shannon Group. I will bring recommendations to Government in this regard shortly.  

“It is my intention that the Company, including Shannon Airport, will be well positioned for the future particularly given the importance of Shannon Airport to the economy of the Midwest region and indeed nationally.”