US apologises for troops breaching Irish Covid-19 regulations at Shannon

Overnighted in Limerick hotel after landing at Shannon without legally required evidence of negative PCR tests or passenger locator forms
US apologises for troops breaching Irish Covid-19 regulations at Shannon

FILE PICTURE: A US Hercules Transporter is parked at the side of the airport at Shannon. Picture: AP Photo/John Cogill

Authorities in the US have apologised to the Government for an incident in which US military personnel breached Irish Covid-19 regulations.

The troops stayed overnight in a Limerick hotel after landing at Shannon Airport without the legally required evidence of negative PCR tests or passenger locator forms.

The US Navy C40A aircraft arrived at Shannon Airport at 7.06pm on January 25 coming from Bahrain and carrying five crew and 48 military personnel. 

They stayed overnight in a Limerick hotel before taking off for the US at 11.35am the following day. 

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan in a parliamentary question response that the troops did not present negative PCR tests or fill out passenger locator forms as required.

Mr Coveney said the passengers were alerted to the fact that they had breached the law by An Garda Síochána and that the breach had happened "due to an error on the US side", but confirmed that they had left their hotel to purchase food.

"Once informed of this breach of regulations by An Garda Siochána, the issue was raised with the US authorities, both through the US embassy in Dublin and through our embassy in Washington. 

"The US authorities have undertaken a review of the circumstances which led to this breach. 

"They have also confirmed that the passengers concerned were operating in a 'clean bubble', were tested repeatedly during the period they were deployed in the location where the flight originated and, following instructions by An Garda Síochána, self-isolated in a hotel in Limerick overnight, only leaving once to purchase food, while masked, before returning to Shannon Airport the following day to travel onward to their destination."

Mr Coveney said that regardless of the explanation from the US authorities, the issue of non-compliance with public health guidelines was a serious one and that he had raised it with the US chargé d'Affaires in Dublin and had received apologies for the incident.

"Any non-compliance is a serious matter and I made this clear in a discussion with the chargé d'Affaires of the US embassy in Dublin on February 4. 

"Our ambassador in Washington has also made this clear in his contacts with senior officials in Washington. 

"We have emphasised to the US authorities that all landings must fully abide by the conditions put in place by the Irish authorities, including public health conditions. 

"The US authorities have assured me that this is understood and will not happen again.

"It is clear that the requirements of the statutory instrument, which came into effect on 9 January, were inadequately communicated by the relevant US authorities across the entire US government system. 

"My department and our embassy in Washington have received apologies, both orally and in writing, from the relevant US authorities, including the US military authorities. 

"The US side has recommitted to full compliance in respect of future landings."

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan in a parliamentary question response that the troops did not present negative PCR tests or fill out passenger locator forms as required.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan in a parliamentary question response that the troops did not present negative PCR tests or fill out passenger locator forms as required.

Mr O'Callaghan told the Irish Examiner that the incident is symptomatic of the Government's lax attitude towards US troops landing in Shannon.

"It is unacceptable that there isn't proper adherence to public health measures by anyone. It's an unnecessary risk and US troops have to be subject to the same approach as anyone else. 

"People are putting in huge effort and making massive sacrifices, anyone coming here must abide by public health measures and that extends to the US military.

"I'm not surprised by it at all — the entire attitude to the US military has been completely lax in terms of monitoring or inspections throughout the years.

Edward Horgan of the Shannonwatch group, which first notified the gardaí about the plane, said that a number of US flights have stayed overnight in the Shannon region in recent weeks and questioned whether the passengers on every flight had presented PCR tests.

"In my view these incidents were not once-off occurrences or mistakes," he told the Irish Examiner.

In an incident a number of days later, a group of US troops was forced back to Shannon after departing for an airbase in Spain due to bad weather, meaning the crew had to spend the night at a local hotel under an agreed local protocol for such occurrences, with a locator form signed off.

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