Minister of State with responsibility for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins has said the mandatory hotel quarantine system in place is "acting as a huge deterrent" for people coming into the country.  

Speaking on RTÉ's Saturday with Katie Hannon, Mr Collins said the current system was "robust" and that to include every country in the hotel quarantine list would be "an absolutely monumental task" for the State to undertake.

Mr Collins said the current mandatory quarantine system meant it would be a serious undertaking for someone travelling into Ireland with the level of cost attached.

On the issue of adding EU countries to the quarantine system list, Mr Collins said freedom of travel was an issue, adding that "there was no reason a meeting of minds cannot take place and why additional countries cannot be added". 

Mr Collins said Ireland was the only country in Europe outside of Norway to bring in such a system, adding that it was "a living project" which "needed to adapt as we go along". 

He said other countries will be added in future when it was "deemed practical for public health reasons" and "doable for legal and economic reasons". 

"It’s difficult, there’s no two ways about it, but Government is doing what it can," he said.

Speaking on the same programme, Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said the Government was not doing everything it could to curb the virus.  

Mr Ó Broin said it will be a mammoth task for the Government if Ireland ends up like other European countries with a spike in cases leading to more restrictions. 

He said the legislation on hotel quarantine does not make a distinction between EU member states and third countries, or between Irish citizens and residents of other jurisdictions.  

"The idea that when NPHET makes strong recommendations to add countries to the list, the government doesn’t just immediately follow suit, I think is quite reckless," he said. 

"Let's do what NPHET says, let's have tough restrictions for shortest time possible, rather than, as the Government did previously, let the virus spiral out of control," he added.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy told the programme that nobody "wanted" to have hotel quarantine, adding that it was a question of whether the country needed it. 

Ms Murphy said not controlling the country’s borders was a risk in terms of the country exposing itself to variants which could undermine the vaccination programme.

Latest coronavirus stories

"This virus doesn't know geography," she said, adding that the economy can only function once the virus was under control. 

She said the numbers currently were too high, and that the country was at the risk of another wave. 

"We have to do what is possible to do so we don’t undermine what has been done to date... we’re in a race against time," she said.  

She questioned how the quarantine system could be described as robust, when there were still over 12,000 people arriving into Ireland, with only "a couple hundred" quarantining.  

"That's where we’re exposed, because we’re not controlling this to the extent that it needs to be controlled," she said.