‘Obviously as they are not turning up, we now understand it is just an excuse for a holiday,’ says one dental receptionist in Spain.
DUBLIN — Thousands of sunseekers are flying through Ireland’s ban on non-essential foreign travel simply by booking an overseas dental appointment.
Police armed with the threat of €500 fines say they can’t legally stop the travelers, who have inundated dental practices on the Continent in recent weeks with calls and emails seeking appointments.
Dentists in Spain’s Canary Islands say they’re receiving up to 15 booking requests daily from inbound Irish travelers — the vast majority of whom don’t turn up for their appointment.
Ireland’s National Immigration Bureau said around a third of travelers to Tenerife, for example, are telling officers they must travel for essential medical reasons and show an email confirmation of a dental appointment. Many travel with companions, who are permitted to accompany what the official guidance calls “a vulnerable person who needs essential treatment.”
Amid a surge of COVID-19 infections since mid-December, Ireland’s rules state that residents should not fly overseas unless they can show an essential business, family or medical reason.
But as has often proved the case during Ireland’s battle with the pandemic, government proclamations are not backed by police powers with teeth.
While the head of the country’s police force, Commissioner Drew Harris, went on Ireland’s most popular TV variety show to warn travelers they could be fined or even jailed, rank-and-file officers at Dublin Airport say they’re powerless to stop those carrying dental declarations.
Several hundred travelers have been hit with the €500 citation, but police powers don’t allow them to be stopped from boarding their flight. The government said it plans to hike the maximum fine to €2,000.
Ireland’s two primary short-haul airlines continue to operate dozens of weekly routes to popular resorts ideal for winter sun holidays. Aer Lingus’ weekly flights to Tenerife are booked out until March 13. Ryanair is advertising available seats as soon as Thursday.
A receptionist at Clinica Dental Tenerife Sur in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Roberta Beccaris, told RTÉ radio she has been receiving five to seven emails daily from inbound Irish travelers — many of them couples in their teens and 20s — seeking appointments.
She said the practice normally provides services to older European travelers, but this wave of bookings seeking emailed confirmations of appointments was new. “Obviously as they are not turning up, we now understand it is just an excuse for a holiday. They are taking appointments away from people who need them, who are in pain,” she said.
Police have reported passengers citing the dental loophole to board flights to several other Spanish destinations, including Barcelona, and even to Turkey and Morocco.
Several dental practices in the Canary Islands say they stopped taking bookings from Irish citizens or are demanding up-front payment. Some say they have tabulated details of the Irish no-shows and are willing to pass them to Irish police.
Ireland’s national police force, An Garda Siochána, has declined to confirm if it will take these dossiers.
A police official, speaking on condition he was not identified, said current law permits travelers to be charged only at the point they attempt the overseas journey, not after the fact. He said courts weren’t equipped to deal with hundreds of probes into whether people actually got their teeth whitened or a cavity filled.
A County Cork dentist, Ann Twomey, told the Irish Examiner that it was “scurrilous to go abroad to get something done that can be done here. I can’t think of any situation where you would need to go abroad to get your teeth done.”
Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/irelands-toothless-travel-restrictions-exposed-as-sunseekers-take-dental-holidays/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication