Up to 400,000 Irish people in Britain are to be given the green light to visit family and friends at home for the first time in six months as Ireland prepares to lift the strictest border controls in Europe.
Only those with essential reasons such as haulage, health or funeral attendance have been allowed to enter the country since the border restrictions were imposed in January.
Travel from Ireland to the rest of the EU is being opened on 19 July in line with bloc policy. The transport minister, Eamon Ryan, has indicated this will also include travel from Great Britain.
“I think travel with the UK will become much easier, particularly for those who are vaccinated from the 19th,” Ryan told RTÉ.
He also said those who have been double vaccinated arriving from Britain will no longer have to quarantine, though this has yet to be confirmed as government policy.
Nonetheless, travel inquiries have surged as Irish families jump on the chance of a trip home.
Google trends showed a 550% rise in searches for Aer Lingus with a 650% rise on Friday for the generic search phrase: “Travel to Ireland from UK Covid.”
A spokesperson for the ferry operator Stena Line said demand on the company’s routes was now “ahead of 2019 levels” and that it expected the same uptick on Wales-to-Ireland routes once the government officially loosened restrictions.
They added that the company had been told that NHS vaccinations would be given the green light by the Irish government. “They confirmed to Stena Line that unrestricted leisure travel will be permitted starting 19 July by British residents who are fully vaccinated. NHS proof of vaccinations will be accepted.”
However, questions remain over the policy for the unvaccinated, leaving families with young children on tenterhooks.
“For others who don’t have the vaccination, they will have to continue to abide by the home quarantine and we will continue to review that,” the spokesperson said.
The relaxation of border restrictions comes as a relief to many Irish people in Britain, some of whom have not seen family for two years.
Some feel that the easing of border restrictions has unfairly focused on Irish at home going on holidays rather than on the large diaspora in Britain, the US and elsewhere desperate to get home to see family.
“I do wish that somebody would speak up for the Irish in Britain as we are such a significant part of the population,” said Barry O’Leary, who lives in Somerset and hasn’t seen his father, a widower, since 2 January 2020.
“It’s terribly sad as it used to be so easy to hop on a plane from Bristol and be in downtown Dublin less than an hour and a half later. The person I feel most disappointed for is my Dad,” he added.
The updated Irish government advice states that children will still need a negative PCR test to enter. “Children between the ages of 7 and 17 must have a negative RT-PCR test in order to travel into Ireland, even with fully vaccinated or recovered adults. Children aged 6 and under do not need to take a RT-PCR test prior to travelling to Ireland,” it says.