Cabinet accepts quarantine law in principle — but it will need tweaks before full approval due to the severity of its provisions

Cabinet accepts quarantine law in principle — but it will need tweaks before full approval due to the severity of its provisions

Health minister Stephen Donnelly brought the draft law to introduce mandatory quarantine to Cabinet yesterday. It was agreed in principle, but has not been formally signed off yet. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Government approval of new legislation for mandatory quarantine at hotels was delayed last night as “tweaks” to the laws failed to get over the line.

At Cabinet yesterday, health minister Stephen Donnelly presented the text of the draft Health Amendment Bill 2021, which was agreed “in principle”, according to a Government spokesman.

However, it was agreed that further “fine-tuning” was required due to the severity of the legislation.

Requirement to quarantine 

The bill will see all passengers arriving from South Africa, Brazil, and 18 other states required to quarantine on arrival, at their own expense, likely to be around €2,000.

Upon arrival in Ireland, relevant travellers will be brought directly from the airport to the designated quarantine facility, which will provide full board accommodation services, ensuite rooms, and make appropriate arrangements for cleaning and laundry services.

They will be required to take Covid-19 tests throughout the 14 days of the quarantine.

 Justice minister Helen McEntee attributed the lack of final sign-off of the mandatory quarantine law to the number of Government departments involved in its implementation. 	Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
Justice minister Helen McEntee attributed the lack of final sign-off of the mandatory quarantine law to the number of Government departments involved in its implementation. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Justice minister Helen McEntee confirmed that the hotels would be guarded by private security firms. Should travellers attempt to leave, gardaí will be called to intervene and either arrest the offender or bring them back to the facility.

Ms McEntee said there was “no disagreement” at Cabinet despite the lack of sign-off, saying this was due to the number of departments involved

Work is continuing on the operational side of the quarantine laws, including procuring suitable hotels and security arrangements.

Government approval for the legislation is expected this morning, and it is hoped the law will be implemented by early March.

New expenditure ceiling

Meanwhile, public expenditure and reform minister Michael McGrath told his colleagues during the Cabinet meeting that gross expenditure by departments in 2020 was €85.3bn — some €17.8bn more than in 2019.

The 2021 Government expenditure ceiling was set at €87.8bn, €5.4bn of which was set aside to respond to the impact of Brexit and Covid-19, and €82.4bn was allocated to various departments.

Given the severity of public health restrictions, and the number of people on the employment wage subsidy scheme, pandemic unemployment payment, and other supports — amounting to around 1m people of working age — Mr McGrath advised his colleagues there will be considerable drawdown on these funds over the coming months.

The health, social protection, education, and justice departments accounted for around 80% of overall expenditure.

Quarterly reporting

Mr McGrath sought agreement at Cabinet for the reinstatement of quarterly reporting requirements to the Government in relation to these departments to ensure visibility of “potential expenditure issues”.

In addition, regular reporting to Government regarding ongoing capital expenditure by departments should also apply this year, he said.

Together, the Department of Transport and Department of Housing accounted for around 50% of the overall gross capital allocation for the year. 

These departments are also required to submit quarterly expenditure management report on this element of expenditure to Government throughout 2021.

'Pandemic keeps ripping up' State's plans

The State borrowed some €19bn last year and is expected to borrow the same this year.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the State was in good financial health when the pandemic hit.

“This pandemic keeps ripping up our plans,” he said. “I thought this pandemic would add €50bn to the national debt, but if it means keeping business infrastructure intact, with financial supports to get people through this, then it’s worth it.”

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