Half of all passengers who arrived into Ireland on Tuesday were Irish people returning from holidays, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Speaking at a private meeting of his parliamentary party, Mr Martin said that of 800 people who came into the country by air, 542 were Irish and 397 were on holidays.
He said that on foot ofreport on Tuesday which showed planeloads of holidaymakers returning from holiday destinations, a greater Garda presence will be deployed to combat such behaviour.
Mr Martin reportedly told his TDs and Senators that people travelling for holidays will face “tough sanctions”.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Martin said the Government decided to extend level 5 restrictions until March 5 to ensure there’s alignment with Northern Ireland.
He said the Government strategy is to get prolonged suppression of the virus and that the Covid numbers are declining steeply.
“We need to keep the pressure on the virus and do what it takes to keep the virus down. The vaccine rollout will pick up in quarter 2,” he said.
“We need to take the pressure off frontline workers, our hospitals and our nursing homes,” he added.
In terms of enforcement, he said the Government is tightening list of exemptions on essential workers for travel. He said Garda presence is increasing checkpoints at ports and airports.
He also said legislation on travel is being drafted and regulations are being progressed this week.
Mr Martin said half of health workers have received the vaccine and the rest are being prioritised along with the next cohort incorporating the over 70s as per the sequencing.
The country will reopen in time but it is key to suppress the virus and get a critical mass of the population vaccinated. Ireland is in regular contact with companies to make sure we have a timely supply of the vaccine,” he said.
On the Leaving Cert, Mr Martin said: “We need to give a minister Foley space to work with partners in education.”
The meeting also heard from 13 aspirant candidates who are seeking to contest upcoming byelections for two Seanad vacancies caused by the resignations of Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy and Sinn Féin’s Elishia McCallion.
Those addressing the party were: Uruemu Adejinmi, Kate Feeney, Trevor Gilligan, ex sen Gerry Horkan, Bernard McGrath, Rita McInerney, Shane Moynihan, Michael Naughton, Ed O’Brien, Kevin O’Keefe & Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, and Michael Sheehan and Joe Sheridan.
In her address, Longford County Councillor Ms Adejinmi said: “Adejinmi is not a common Irish name but nor were de Valera, Lemass nor Marckievicz”.