Ireland may not be in a position to fully roll out the EU Covid travel certificate until mid-August because so much testing in the State is carried out by private operators, RTÉ News understands.
Ireland has the strictest travel curbs in the EU, advising citizens against non-essential travel, imposing fines on people travelling to airports to go on holiday and a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from a number of countries.
This morning the Minister for Health said Ireland will adopt a Covid-19 certificate to help citizens travel more freely across the European Union "as early as possible" and not necessarily by late July as previously flagged.
However, it is understood Ireland will need to avail of the phasing-in period due to the complexity of reconciling private testing with a centralised EU platform allowing all member states to recognise each others' Covid certificates.
The EU has said that if a member state is not ready to issue certificates in the new format by 1 July, it will have six weeks from that date to introduce the new certificate format.
National certificates in other formats will be accepted during the phasing-in period.
The EU certificates are described as a "wallet", which will recognise digital or paper confirmations that a person has been vaccinated, has a negative Covid-19 test, or has recovered from the virus.
While it is understood that Ireland’s vaccination documents will be fully compatible with the EU certificate, there are concerns that private testing certificates will take longer to fit into the EU system.
Sources have explained that in some countries Covid-19 testing is state-run, whereas in Ireland, Sweden, France and other member states, a significant amount of the testing is carried out by private companies, such as Boots in Ireland’s case.
The problem, say officials, is that it is more complicated for a private company to register its system with the EU platform, compared to systems that are entirely state run.
Officials have stressed that many countries, particularly those largely dependent on the tourist industry, will still accept proof of vaccination and negative Covid tests on entry, even if they are not fully registered on the EU certificates.
Portugal, for example, has said it will accept travellers from the UK if they produce their own documents.
The issue reflects the fact that member states still retain a significant degree of discretion on allowing people to enter their territories.
It is also understood that the Irish Government will not permit tourists from other member states if they arrive with a rapid antigen Covid-19 test, as opposed to a PCR test.
Ireland to adopt EU travel cert 'as early as possible'
Earlier Minister Donnelly said there will be a "comprehensive statement" on international travel next week and the details are still being finalised.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said central to this is Ireland participating in the EU digital Covid certificate, allowing fully vaccinated people travel across member states this summer.
He said Ireland intends to "fully participate" but would not be drawn on a possible date, only that it would commence as "early as possible".
He said the details are still being worked on and it will be revealed to the public next week. He added that he thinks "it will be well received".
Minister Donnelly said when this EU digital Covid certificate is implemented it will mean those fully vaccinated will have unimpeded travel across the EU and then that will eventually progress to travel further afield.
The head of global industry group IATA, Willie Walsh, warned on Wednesday that Ireland's air connectivity is likely to shrink by 30% and may need five years to recover from Europe's most "repressive" travel restrictions.
While ministers have said it will be late July or early August before they put the so-called travel pass into operation, Mr Donnelly said Ireland could be have it earlier.
"The finalised date is being worked on and will be announced next week. The Government's view is that we want to participate in this as early as possible," Mr Donnelly told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
Unanimous EU support for digital Covid cert
The European Council's permanent representatives committee (Coreper) has gave its unanimous support to the EU digital Covid certificate.
The council will now send a letter to the European Parliament to officially communicate that the member states' permanent representatives have endorsed the political agreement.
The parliament is then expected to vote its first reading position at its plenary session on 7-10 June.
Once the signature of the legislation has taken place, the regulations shall be published and apply from 1 July, with member states allowed six weeks to implement it.
The pass will be available in digital and paper format, contain a QR code and be issued free of charge. It is not a precondition for exercising free movement rights and it is not a travel document.
Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said it will be up to individual countries to decide on their own specific rules, whether they will require a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination.
Mr Byrne acknowledged there has been unease and concern expressed by other EU states around Ireland's mandatory hotel quarantine and expects that as the health situation improves it "will be on the way out".
The current situation, he explained, is if you are travelling from a country on the quarantine list and you are fully vaccinated you are exempt and he believes the EU Covid cert will ease that process further.
Minister Byrne also said the cyber attack on the HSE's IT systems has had some technological impact on the Government's plans to develop the EU digital Covid certificate.
"It clearly does impact that but there has been huge work under way for the last few weeks at European level and national level co-ordinated by the European Commission.
"That is going to continue over the next few weeks, test runs are being done."
He said while this Covid document will make travel easier, it will not have all the answers and does not eliminate the risk of being infected with Covid-19 abroad.
Return of tourism would be the key driver of Spain's economic recovery
Spain today said it will let people from non-EU countries who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 enter the country from 7 June.
The new rule will apply to vaccinated travellers regardless of their country of origin, and most notably from the US, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
Mr Sanchez said the return of tourism would be the key driver of Spain's economic recovery.
In parallel, from 24 May, Spain will allow tourists from non-EU countries deemed a low coronavirus infection risk to enter without a negative PCR test.
Britain, Spain's largest market for foreign tourists, will be included on the list, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Israel among others.
Additional reporting Reuters