Serious concern has been expressed in many areas of the country about an apparent Easter exodus of people to seaside resorts in contravention of government and health professional’s advice on travel.
Locals and business people in coastal areas of Co Clare have reported a ‘gradual influx’ of people who have been described as ‘fortunate enough’ to own a second home.
On March 25th, Clare County Council closed the carparks at all beaches and public amenities they manage after thousands of people ignored social distancing advice and flocked to the county’s beaches three days earlier.
Since then, a social shutdown has been put in place by the government in an effort to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
While it’s accepted that the majority of people have been compliant, members of the public have still failed to comply with a request to remain within 2 kilometres of their home, for the purpose of exercise, and to only venture further if the journey is absolutely necessary or they are deemed to provide an essential service.
In many cases, people continue to drive significant distances for their daily walk, swim, to go surfing and kayaking, however, it’s hoped that new powers handed down to Gardaí will turn the tide on such activity.
Yesterday, An Garda Síochána mounted Operation Fanacht which will include dozens of checkpoint across Co Clare.
While mobile home and caravan parks have locked their gates, it’s being reported that cars have begun to appear outside local holiday homes at many of Clare’s resorts. Increased activity has been reported in Lahinch, Kilkee and Spanish Point in recent days leaving locals bewildered and deeply concerned for the safety of their own communities.
Kilkee Fianna Fáil Councillor Cillian Murphy said: “At the heart of this issue is respect, or lack of it. We would ask that those people who are fortunate enough to own second homes here in Kilkee, and indeed elsewhere, would show respect for the health guidelines in place with regards to restricting movement of people. They are there for a reason, to ensure we minimize the impact of this crisis in the shortest time possible by reducing its transmission rate.
We know most people will adhere to these guidelines, they are putting the common good above their own and in my mind they are absolutely respecting us as a community. The small percentage of people who ignore the travel restrictions guidelines and rock up to Kilkee for the weekend are showing nothing but contempt for those of us who live here.
I would also suggest, if they are contemptuous of this guideline, their compliance with all the others is also suspect, social distancing, washing hands etc. By their actions they visibly pose a far higher risk to us here in Kilkee, as well as in their own communities.
We have welcomed people to Kilkee for hundreds of years, and will continue to do so for hundreds more, but it’s a bit much to expect us to respect those who do not respect us,” he added.
Clare Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway said: “It is shocking to think that people who have the privilege in life of owning a second home would knowingly and willingly jeopardize public health by ignoring clear government advice on travel. People with second homes in the west of Ireland are extremely fortunate in life, much more fortunate then many and people living in the communities where they have the homes.
I am calling on them to respect the areas who have welcomed them over the years by staying away this Easter. It is time to show some appreciation for the privilege you have in life and repent the health of the people who live permanently on the coast.
I am also calling on the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner to redeploy as much resources as possible to the sea side approach roads from now onwards and tell people who are violating the 2km rule to turn back and go home,” Sen. Conway added.
Lahinch hotelier and former president of the Irish Hotels Federation Michael Vaughan added: “All along the coast in Clare there has been a small but noticeable influx of people to their holiday homes. In normal times, Easter would be the start of our tourist season. Our small communities are worried that many people will understandably wish to escape to more idyllic surroundings over the holiday period.
I am asking anyone who is contemplating returning to a holiday home over this time to respect the restrictions. The health of our communities is at risk if we cannot preserve our normal life patterns at this time. It is most unusual to be asking people not to visit our lovely coast, but that’s what is required this year. We have all sacrificed our tourist season to stay safe. We ask our usual holiday visitors to make the right choice and stay at home.
The loss of business to Lahinch this Easter and the coming months is immeasurable but we are united in doing the best for all. Keep Easter safe for us by remaining where you are now,” Mr Vaughan said.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Shane Talty from nearby Ennistymon said: “I’d echo the appeal from CMO Dr. Tony Holohan that everyone should continue to adhere to the travel restrictions and stay at home. This means staying within 2km of your principle residence, not travelling across the country to a second home to establish a separate 2km zone.
Lahinch, like all our coastal resorts is a beautiful location with a welcoming local population but right now we don’t want to see an influx of visitors adding unnecessary risks to our largely compliant local community. The number of positive Covid-19 cases locally is very low and we wish to keep it as low as possible.
Those choosing to ignore the Government/CMO advice are recklessly endangering their fellow citizens at a time when we should be working to protect one another. The sense of entitlement on display from these travellers is disgusting and while Garda powers to deal with the issue may be limited, I hope that increased checkpoints and patrols may at least cause some deserved social embarrassment to the so called upper classes,” Cllr Talty added.