Clarification needed on Garda enforcement powers

20 August 2020

With ongoing confusion about the new Covid-19 regulations, Labour Justice spokesperson Brendan Howlin has called for clarification from the Government on the status of proposed new powers for An Garda Síochána and if they intend to recall the Dáil and introduce new legislation.

Deputy Howlin said:

“Two days on from the Cabinet considering NPHET advice, the Government has made no detailed statement about proposed new Garda powers, and we still don’t know what they are considering.

“The Taoiseach has stated that the Attorney General is considering the matter, but we still don’t know what the scope of the proposed new powers are, and if they will be introduced as public health measures under the emergency powers provided by the Covid Acts, or if new legislation will be needed. The current public health measures apply until 13th September, but the Dáil isn’t due to return until after that date.

“At various stages since the start of the pandemic, the Government has announced restrictions but without taking any steps to give legal force and effect to their announcements. There is a clear communications problem here.

“The Dáil and Seanad passed emergency legislation that allows the Government to make regulations to give legal effect to public health restrictions, allows the Gardai to enforce them and creates penalties for breach. If the Government makes rules but does not give legal effect to them in regulations, then the Gardai are in an impossible position because they are a law enforcement body, not a public health advisory body.

“Because the Government hasn’t clearly said what sort of enforcement powers it is now considering, we have no idea whether or why new legislation would be required, and why regulations under the emergency Act would not be sufficient. Most would welcome powers to enable Gardaí to close pubs or social venues that are flouting public health guidance.

“The current regulations do not apply to private houses. The Labour Party would have serious concerns about this, and there are strong constitutional protections in place. If Government wants to regulate overcrowded house parties, then the Gardai would probably need a power to enter and search, if they have reasonable grounds. Currently they need consent or a warrant.

“If the Government wants the criminal law to apply to overcrowded house parties, then new primary legislation may well be needed. And if this is truly an urgent public health issue then we should not be expected to wait for another month while the Government makes up its mind before the return of the Dáil and Seanad.”

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