An Irish man who flew back from the United States to see his critically ill father has been allowed to avoid undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine on humanitarian grounds.
Colm Bates' 91-year-old father is “on his deathbed” and the purpose of his journey to Ireland was to visit him in Tipperary before he dies, the High Court was told on Friday.
Mr Bates, an Irish citizen, has lived in New York since 1996 and is project manager for a construction development company.
He commenced a legal challenge in anticipation of having to face 10 days of MHQ after his flight from New York touched down at Dublin Airport in the early hours of Saturday.
He had tested negative for Covid three days ago and has also received his first dose of the vaccine.
His mother died last April but due to Covid-19 restrictions on US flights, he was unable to get home for her funeral, the court had heard.
Mr Bates was “deeply and profoundly” upset by that, and did not want a repeat of that situation Micheál P. O Higgins SC (instructed by solicitor Michael French) said.
When the inquiry, under Article 40 of the Constitution, was sought in at the High Court at about 3.30pm, on Friday, Mr Bates was at that stage about to be leaving on a flight from New York.
It was due to arrive at Dublin Airport at 4.50am on Saturday with a return flight booked for May 7th, Mr Justice Anthony Barr was told. He was travelling home solely for the purpose of visiting his father, the court heard.
Mr O’Higgins agreed Mr Bates could seek a State liaison officer on arrival at Dublin Airport with a view to getting an appeals officer to review his situation to get an exemption from mandatory hotel quarantine.
There was no guarantee a review would result in success, counsel submitted.
Mr Justice Anthony Barr said he saw the “human” nature of the application, the tragic circumstances and that Mr Bates needed to have the matter quickly addressed.
With a view to staying on “the right side of the law”, and to address the circumstances, he adjourned the ex parte application for an Article 40 inquiry to 9am on Saturday, with liberty to serve the papers on the State parties.
Mr O’Higgins said the mandatory hotel quarantine regime under the Health Act permits an exception to quarantine on urgent humanitarian grounds.
His solicitor wrote to the Department of Health last Wednesday seeking an exemption for Mr Bates on humanitarian grounds. A reply stated he would be required to entire hotel quarantine on his arrival and there was no facility of a review of detention either in advance of travel or in Dublin Airport.
Counsel said Mr Bates had returned a negative PCR test 72 hours before the flight and had also received his first Covid-19 vaccination dose.
A consultant had said Mr Bates’ father was critically ill and not expected to recover. The family had been requested to gather. Relatives are permitted to visit the father in hospital in groups of two.
Mr Bates instructed his lawyers to challenge the constitutionality of the relevant “blanket and inflexible” law on hotel quarantine if that was necessary but hoped that would not be necessary.
The proceedings resumed before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore on Saturday morning when the court directed an inquiry into his detention should take place and the case was adjourned to 1pm.
At the resumption of the proceedings, Mr O’Higgins told the court there had been a “significant development”, adding, “my client was released at approximately 11.52am”.
David Fennelly BL, for the State, confirmed that Mr Bates had been released on humanitarian grounds. It was unnecessary for the court to embark on hearing the substantive issues and the matter could be simply struck out.
The judge agreed to strike them out and told counsel to pass on to Mr Bates his sympathies at this very difficult time.
An application for legal aid — the custody issues scheme — would be facilitated at a later stage, the judge said.
A statement of Mr Bates’s means would have to be obtained, and his solicitor was satisfied that his client would be eligible, the court heard.