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Mandatory Quarantine Surprise: Donnelly cocks it up again

It’s getting hard to count the number of disasters the Minister for Health has been involved in this week, and its only Wednesday morning. At the present rate, it is entirely possible, if not likely, he’ll have single handedly bankrupted the state by Friday.

First, this week, we learned what he was up to in January. At the very height of the post-Christmas wave, when hundreds of people were dying in nursing homes, the Minister for Health was so annoyed at the lack of twitter mentions of him by his department officials that he commissioned a report into how often he was being mentioned, and presented it to officials.

Then, this week, his department cancelled vaccinations for everybody. Then, last night, we learned that the mandatory quarantine system he set up – in a city full of empty hotels – had broken down after two weeks:

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that bookings have been paused on the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine system. Sources have said the pause will last for four days.

Mr Donnelly said that airlines will be contacted and asked not to let passengers on from high-risk countries who do not have a booking on the system.

He was responding after it emerged that the reservation system for the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine system is not accepting bookings until next Monday.

“The department is operating on a precautionary principle. The hotel quarantine system has only been in place for 18 days, believe it or not. We have gone from 33 countries up to I think it’s 71 countries now. On a precautionary basis the department has paused the bookings to make sure we have the capacity,” he told RTE’s Six One News.

What does this guy have to do to get the sack?

Leave aside the fact that mandatory quarantine is a brutal, oppressive, and probably useless policy for a moment. If you are going to set up such a policy, you would naturally do a few things: The very first of those things you would do would be to look at how many passengers would be affected by the policy, and need to quarantine, so that you knew how many beds you would need. That would be – and this can’t be stressed enough – the very first thing you would do.

Except, apparently, if you are Stephen Donnelly. So now, Ireland has a policy of mandatory quarantine, but nowhere to put the people it intends to force into quarantine. If they arrive here, they’re not allowed to go anywhere, but the state has nowhere to put them.

The new, interim solution, then, is to tell airlines not to let them on the planes at the point of departure if they do not have a quarantine booking already. How this is a legal directive, of course, is an open question: Under what legislative instrument or statutory regulation does the Minister have any authority to stop people getting on an airplane in Dubai, or Sydney, or New York, or anywhere else? We don’t know, but the good news is that the airlines appear willing to co-operate anyway. In a saner world, they’d tell him to go and jump, but we left sanity behind a while ago.

What is this going to do, incidentally, to Ireland’s international reputation? We’re always told that things the Government doesn’t like will damage Ireland’s reputation – anti lockdown protests, that sort of thing – but what is going to happen when a businessperson is prevented from getting on a plane to Ireland without any warning? Already we’ve seen people who are fully vaccinated being locked up, and prevented from seeing seriously ill relatives. Now we have a mandatory quarantine system which you can’t book into, and can’t come to the country if you haven’t booked into. It’s mortifying.

Stephen Donnelly, let’s be very clear, should be sacked over this. He should have been sacked, in truth, over the twitter story. He should also have been sacked over the vaccine mess. It is difficult to remember a more incompetent Government in Irish history than the one Mr. Martin is leading. Except, of course, for the last one he was a member of, back in 2011.

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