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Revenue seized 2kg of cannabis with assistance from drugs dog Bailey

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Revenue officers at Dublin Parcel Hub, with the assistance of drugs dog Bailey, have seized 1.8kg of herbal cannabis with an estimated value of almost €36,000.

The illegal drugs were discovered in six parcels declared as items such as ‘Sweaters’, ‘Games’ and ‘Women’s Coat’. The parcels had originated in the United States and Canada and were destined for delivery to addresses in Dublin, Longford and Wicklow.

Revenue seized 1.8kg of cannabis at Dublin Parcel Hub.

These seizures are part of Revenue’s ongoing operations targeting the importation of illegal drugs.

If businesses or members of the public have any information regarding smuggling, they can contact Revenue in confidence on Confidential Phone Number 1800 295 295

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Ireland

Edwin Poots calls for action on Brexit plant and soil bans

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A Stormont minister has urged the UK and Irish governments to take urgent action to address Brexit barriers to importing soils and plants into Northern Ireland.

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots said the viability of the region’s agriculture and horticulture sectors is on the line as a consequence of new Irish Sea trading arrangements.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is currently preventing the importation of certain plants, soil, plant products and seeds.

Mr Poots had previously written to UK Environment Secretary George Eustice and Irish agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue on the problem.

He said he has now raised it in an inter-ministerial group with ministers from England, Scotland and Wales.

“As things stand, the implementation of the NI Protocol continues to prevent the marketing in NI of many plants, plant products and vegetable seeds from Great Britain (GB) that are of significant importance to the agriculture and horticulture sectors,” he said.

“This includes the movement of soil from third countries, including where it is associated with plants.

“The importance of allowing trade to continue is absolutely vital to the agriculture and horticulture sector’s viability and associated economic activity.

“This is an urgent issue and will have significant impacts on important NI and ROI trade.

“That is why I have written to both the UK Secretary of State George Eustice and Irish Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) Minister Charlie McConalogue to raise these concerns for immediate action.”

Mr Poots has called on Environment Secretary George Eustice to act (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Poots also insisted that a statutory rule (SR) passed in the Assembly in December to reflect the changes brought about by the protocol could not have been altered to prevent the introduction of the new arrangements.

“The SR could not change the consequences of the Northern Ireland Protocol, as voted for by the Westminster Government,” he said.

“The prohibition of the movement of soil from third countries, including where it is associated with plants, are mandatory obligations imposed by the protocol and the SR could not have changed that.”

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‘No shame’ in contracting Covid-19 amid soaring transmission rates

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There is “no shame” in contracting Covid-19 amid soaring community transmission rates, a Government official has said.

Speaking at a Government briefing on Wednesday morning, Elizabeth Canavan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, said it is currently “difficult to avoid” contracting the coronavirus in Ireland.

One in every 76 people in Ireland had now received a positive diagnosis for the disease, she added.

“There’s no shame in being diagnosed with Covid-19. Testing positive doesn’t mean we have done something wrong,” the Government official said.

Ms Canavan added that those who test positive or become a close contact must continue to do the right thing, by self-isolating or restricting their movements.

Although case numbers surrounding the virus had begun to decrease, Ms Canavan said that community transmission rates remained “worryingly high”.

The current rate of community transmission was many times higher than previously, and double the rate seen at the peak of the second wave of the virus at the end of October, she added.

The extension of Level 5 lockdown restrictions to March 5th was necessary to save lives and protect the health service, Ms Canavan said.

Healthcare workers were under “unbearable strain”, with more people in hospital and in intensive care with the virus than at any other time during the pandemic.

“In many ways it will be the next few weeks that are harder than the last, as we need to make the same improvement as then,” Ms Canavan said.

The official urged the public to “think twice” before deciding to make a non-essential journey or to visit a beauty spot outside of their five kilometre limit for taking exercise.

“The virus is all around us,” she added.

Garda checkpoints would take place in both urban and rural locations to ensure compliance with the measures, though Ms Canavan said the “majority of people” were following guidelines.

It was now also a legal requirement to wear a mask in banks, credit unions and postal offices, she added.

Travel

There should be no non-essential travel, domestic or international, under current Level 5 restrictions.

The majority of those arriving at ports and airports were Irish people returning from abroad, Ms Canavan said. Essential reasons for travel do not include holidays, visiting relatives or friends, or staying at a second home.

On Tuesday, Cabinet Ministers signed off on new restrictions on travel into the Republic, including a mandatory quarantine period in a designated facility for travellers arriving without proof of a negative PCR test for the virus or from the current variant hotspots of Brazil and South Africa.

All other arrivals will be required to quarantine at a location of their choice — with the requirement given a new legal footing.

“Where people are determined to ingnore the regulations on travel, they will face increased penalites,” Ms Canavan said.

The official reminded that restrictions on travel do not apply to those escaping from harm or domestic abuse.

Regarding the rollout of vaccines to protect against the disease, Ms Canavan said community vaccination would begin in mid-February, with those over the age of 70.

The approval of vaccines and confirmation of supply were factors outside the control of the Government, but the State’s vaccination programme was built to be “flexible and agile” and to respond to new developments, she said.

More would be known regarding the status of the AstraZeneca vaccine later in the week, Ms Canavan added.

Those eligible for a vaccine did not need to take any specific action, with the HSE preparing an information strategy, she said.

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Footage of Irish holidaymakers returning from Lanz…

Ms Canavan warned that gardaí had been made aware of members of the public receiving fraudulent text mesages and calls regarding vaccination, asking people to confirm private information such as their PPS number or address.

Contact of this nature should be ignored, she said. A person’s local GP would be their first point of contact regarding the vaccine, which will be free and not available privately.

It comes as a further 90 deaths and 928 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the Republic on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll in the Republic to more than 3,000.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, said more Covid-19 cases had been reported in the month of January than all of 2020.

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Donnelly says September vaccination target is ‘aspirational’, not a promise

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Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that September remains the aspirational date for everyone in the country to be vaccinated.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Mr Donnelly said that his comment was not a promise, it was “heavily caveated” and was based on the schedule of advanced purchases of vaccines.

Responding to criticism of the proposed mandatory quarantine scheme, the Minister said that the most important part of the Government’s recent plans was not international travel, it was extending Level 5 restrictions until March 5th.

The quarantine plan was important because of the new variants, he said. Of the 667 outbreaks in the past two weeks only one was linked to travel but new variants from South Africa and Brazil were “a game changer” which had led to the Government halting visas for people from Brazil and South Africa.

“It’s a country of origin thing. They won’t get a visa.” The Government could not legislate for other countries, but they could instruct the carriers that a negative PCR test was a requirement on arriving in Ireland. “We will now prosecute if they don’t have a negative PCR test.”

Even if people have negative results on Day 1 and Day 5, there will not be an easing of quarantine, he said.

When asked about what powers the gardaí will have to enforce the quarantine measures, he said that it was entirely possible that gardaí “knock on the door” to check that people were observing the quarantine. “We will look at providing PPE and protocols.”

The situation was “intolerable” for everyone, he said. There was a mental health cost, a human cost and an economic cost. “This has been the most difficult year in living memory”.

Vaccination programme

Mr Donnelly said he did not want to see rolling lockdowns, vaccination was a game changer and the vaccination programme was “going well”.

When asked about calls by the Opposition for a zero Covid policy, the Minister said he was not dismissive of zero Covid and had considered it as there was “a lot of sense to some of it”, but the big challenge was north-south travel.

In theory borders could be locked with no one getting in or out, but the North and the UK government had ruled out any checks between them. They were not going to seal (the island) for political reasons, he said.

Many people in the North considered themselves Irish citizens and he was not going to stop them moving around the island.

The Government was looking at the merit of aligning Ireland and the UK as closely as possible — a two island strategy was being explored to clarify “if there is merit to us closely aligning the border control measures for the UK and for Ireland as possible, which deals with the challenge, which is free flow, north/south and east/west from Northern Ireland”.

The plan after March 5th was to “ramp up” the vaccination programme which would then allow the opening up of priority areas.

If the vaccines that have been ordered come in on schedule then it was reasonable to assume that everyone would be vaccinated, he said.

Mr Donnelly said that the EU was working hard to find out why AstraZeneca was not delivering the vaccine as planned. The EU has been “blindsided” by AstraZeneca when they announced a major reduction in supply. The EU was seeking details to see if the doses ordered by the EU were going elsewhere.

The Minister admitted that up to 70,000 frontline workers had not yet been vaccinated and that there had been “a huge clamour” for the vaccine. NIAC had drawn up the priority list which prioritised nursing home residents and that was what was being followed.

“We are getting the vaccine into as many arms as quickly as possible.”

Mr Donnelly said he would be following up on a report that a number of vials of the vaccine had to be dumped because they were incorrectly stored. “We can’t have that happening, these vaccines are too precious.”

Vaccination targets were being met, he said, the plan was working and the vaccination teams were doing great work. There had been a one-week glitch in supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but the supply lines were better now.

It’s a huge job. Bing Minister for Health is a busier job than normal.

When asked if there should be a clinical lead of the vaccination programme, the Minister said Colm Henry was the clinical lead and he was the political lead. “It’s a huge job. Bing Minister for Health is a busier job than normal.”

Mr Donnelly paid tribute to the HSE who he said were “doing an incredible job”. They were taking on more work all the time and “every time they deliver.”

The public could help the health service and front line workers by following restrictions and staying home.

Once the numbers were reduced and the vaccination programme continued then the country could “open up gradually” with schools and colleges getting “up and running” in a careful way.

The Minister said he understood the frustration of the public. “My own granny is 101, I dearly want her to get the vaccine, I haven’t seen her since last February.”

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