Irish ambassador to France: Covid-19 Q&A

The Irish Ambassador to France, Patricia O’Brien has answered questions from readers about Covid-19 and Irish citizens and France. She tells Connexion that she hopes “we will pull through this difficult time together and that the summer, real and metaphorical, is within reach.” The questions cover travel and healthcare.

20 April 2020

Message from the Ambassador:

It feels like a long time has passed since we were looking forward to celebrating St. Patrick's day here in France and around the world. March 17 came and went while we were all preoccupied with the Covid-19 crisis, but this is just one example in a long list of cancelled plans. It seems that life beyond the essential has been on pause. The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took the early and decisive measures to close crèches, schools and universities on March 12 on the same day that France announced similar measures.

In Ireland, further restrictions were introduced to close bars, restaurants and all non-essential shops and services. Those aged over 70 have been asked to “cocoon” which is a nice way of inviting the elderly to stay at home and to stay safe by limiting non-essential interaction with others. These protective measures will remain in force in Ireland until May 5. These sacrifices by Irish people are making a difference: our health service has not been overwhelmed and lives have been saved.

A challenge of such magnitude reminds us that we are nothing without each other. No single person, organisation or government can defeat this virus alone, but with a spirit and mindset of cooperation, collaboration and solidarity, we will together. A quote from Irish Noble Laureate Seamus Heaney has struck a chord with Irish people at home and abroad: “if we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere”. There is hope that we will pull through this difficult time together and that the summer, real and metaphorical, is within reach.

My Embassy staff are working hard to help and advise Irish citizens in whatever way we can. We have been using the Embassy Twitter account and website to amplify the information from the French authorities as well as to communicate important information from Ireland regarding travel restrictions and the 14 day self-isolation for those planning to return to Ireland. We have dedicated helplines both at the Ministry in Dublin and at the Embassy in Paris to advise on travel and welfare issues for Irish citizens living in France or those travelling back to Ireland.

This is an especially difficult time for those of you who are separated from your families, but we have never had so many ways to keep in touch. The greatest strength of the Irish people is our sense of community which we share with each other and with all our friends in France. Look after each other, look after yourselves and look forward to good news in the coming weeks.  

 

Questions & answers:

 

My three friends and myself meet up each year in Dublin for a reunion, we are all Irishmen living abroad with one exception. The member of our team still living at home in Ireland always books our accommodation for four days and has done so again for early May. In light of the present pandemic it is now obvious that this year's reunion will not take place. The hotel has refused a refund when approached, cancellation insurance was not included when the original booking was made. The booking is still extant, in the almost certainty that three of us will be unable to travel through restrictions and presumably Dublin Hotels will be on lockdown, is this hotel sending out the message that the Irish Tourist Board and our Government would approve?

While the Embassy cannot comment on the policy of a specific business, hotels in Ireland are being as flexible as possible towards their guests at a time when they are struggling to manage the effects of the crisis on their businesses. There is no single cancellation scheme in Ireland such as that which is in place France where it is possible to receive credit voucher to rebook within a certain timeframe. With regard to the booking in early May, this may be affected by the government restrictions which will be in place at least until May 5. Hotels will be reviewing their policy in line with the evolving situation.

 

We are currently at our second home in France and happy to stay here during the confinement period (hopefully over soon). Do you see an issue with this? What will happen if we need healthcare?

As an EU citizen, you have the right to remain in France. If you decide to stay here for the duration of the confinement period, make sure to follow all the rules and guidelines put in place by the French authorities. Your European Health Insurance card will continue to be accepted by the French health care authorities. If you need to extend the validity of your EHIC card, you should contact the HSE in Ireland. We advise that, if you are thinking of returning to Ireland, you do so as soon as possible. Be aware that as France is only allowing travel for essential reasons, you may have difficulties coming back to France if you do so while confinement measures still apply.

 

Our dad lives permanently in France and is in his 80s. He is in good health but are there organisations which will keep an eye on him if need be as we cannot probably travel across? 

Each commune in France has a section on its website titled solidarité senior. Assistance in relation to elderly or vulnerable persons who may need it can be requested by contacting the town hall of the place where they live, either by phone or by registering on the town hall’s website. The French government also has an official website with further information: https://www.pour-les-personnes-agees.gouv.fr/actualites/coronavirus-covid-19-ou-trouver-des-informations

 

We are on holiday with friends in France, should we leave and return to Ireland? What travel services are working? Do we need to have one of the forms French people do – if so what box do we cross?

If you are temporarily in France and planning on returning to Ireland in coming weeks, we advise that you return home now while flight and ferry connections are still available. It will become a lot more difficult to return home as flight connections are severely reduced. While train and public transport services have been reduced to minimum levels in France, a small number of intercity connections are still running. It is possible to change your tickets at no or very little extra cost with most carriers. You should make sure to have with you your passport, the self-declaration form, and proof of your travel to Ireland. You should tick the “motif familial impérieux” box on your self-declaration form, and add a sentence at the end which states “retour au domicile pour raisons familiales”.

 

Is the government putting in place any special help to get Irish people back or do we just have to chance commercial carriers?

We are fortunate that flight and ferry connections between France and Ireland are currently still operating. It is therefore possible to return to Ireland with commercial options. However, we do advise everyone who is thinking of returning to Ireland to do so now, as it is likely that flight schedules will be cut even further in coming days.

 

I am an Irish citizen here but until recently I have been an expat on the back of English husband's contract. We currently have private insurance until French Social Security is sorted out. My application for CPAM is just ready to be posted. I have an Irish social security number but left the Emerald Isle 25 years ago. Our mutual is in place but the CPAM is awaiting. If I get sick will there be coverage by the Irish government in the event the private insurance runs out and the CPAM is not in place?

The French authorities have confirmed that health care will be provided to those who need it at the present time. Entitlement to any health cover through the Irish system will depend on your own personal circumstances, including whether you have previously worked in Ireland. For more information, you should contact the HSE to discuss your situation.

 

 

Useful links for information on assistance for Irish people during the Covid-19 crisis: 

https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/ 

https://www2.hse.ie/coronavirus/?source=banner-www

 https://www.dfa.ie/

 https://twitter.com/IrlEmbParis

 https://www.linkedin.com/company/embassy-of-ireland-france/?viewAsMember=true

 https://covidecoute.org/

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