Questions have been raised about the Covid-19 status of two further planeloads of US military personnel who landed in Shannon and spent the night in Limerick hotels in recent days.
On Monday, the Irish Examiner revealed that US authorities had apologised to the Government after a flight containing five crew and 48 military personnel that landed at Shannon Airport on January 25 did so without any evidence of negative PCR Covid-19 tests or passenger locator forms as required by law since January 9.
While US authorities had assured Irish authorities that the incident, which included the Americans leaving the Limerick hotel in which they were isolating to buy food, would not be repeated, questions have now been raised about a pair of flights in the following days.
On January 28, an Omni Air International aircraft on contract to the US military landed at Shannon and after refuelling flew on towards Rota Air Base in southern Spain. However, due to heavy fog, it returned to Shannon, where 226 passengers disembarked and spent the night at local hotels.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly asked Transport Minister Eamon Ryan about the matter, who referred her question to the Shannon Airport Group.
The group told Ms Connolly that the Americans waited for several hours at the airport before receiving diplomatic clearance to carry on to local hotels.
“Airline crews are exempt from current Covid testing requirements and the passengers concerned were never destined to disembark in Shannon, therefore no Covid-19 test was required,” it stated.
“Due to the emergency/humanitarian situation, the passengers were escorted to/from the hotel accommodation under an agreed local protocol for such rare occurrences and a passenger locator form signed by the commander.”
On February 8, four days after Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney raised the issue with the US charge d’affaires in Dublin Alexandra McKnight, another flight landed at Shannon with passengers allowed to stay overnight at a local hotel.
A spokesperson for the US embassy told the Irish Examiner the flights “were fully compliant, as will all flights be going forward”.
The embassy said it took Irish concerns over the matter “very seriously”.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
It was asked if those on the flights had presented negative tests or had filled in passenger locator forms, and what steps had been taken to ensure that the hotel quarantine was not breached. It was also asked to outline the contact it had with An Garda Síochána on the matter. A Garda spokesperson confirmed that the force was “liaising with the Department of Foreign Affairs on this matter”.
Gardaí referred those on the January 25 flight to isolate in a hotel after the breach came to light. Gardaí were asked by this paper if any of the 53 passengers found to have breached the rules were fined. Under the department’s own guidance, those without a negative test can be fined up to €2,500.
A spokesperson said: “We can offer no further comment at this time."