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New on-the-spot Covid fines: €500 for organising events in breach of rules, €150 for attending

Not wearing a face covering on public transport or in certain retail outlets can carry a fine of €80.

ORGANISING AN EVENT in a private dwelling in contravention of the government’s Covid-19 regulations will carry a fine of €500 being imposed. 

A new statutory instrument signed by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will see fines coming into effect four weeks after the Bill providing for them became law.

Under the new fixed penalty notices, attending an event in a private dwelling in contravention of regulations can carry a fine of €150.

A person breaching travel regulations can be fined €100, while not wearing a face covering on public transport or in certain retail outlets can carry a fine of €80.

Last month, the prospect of a graduated fines system was first mooted.

The Taoiseach said at the time that the government’s priority was to “work with people to build compliance without having to rely on those measures”.

However, Micheál Martin and the Justice Minister Helen McEntee met with the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris recently to discuss enforcement measures during the pandemic.

In a statement this evening, the Department of Health and Department of Justice said the only enforcement power available previously when people violated regulations under the 1947 Health Act was a ‘Penal Provision’, which carried a maximum penalty of up to €2,500 and/or 6 months in prison, on conviction in court by a judge.

“The Government decided that a more flexible and proportionate system of sanctions was required for offences and breaches of the regulations,” it stated.

The legalisation has five categories of enforcement, as follows:

  • Non-penal – These are for measures which are included in the regulations as not allowed, but which carry no penalty.
  • Penal – If a person is prosecuted in court for an offence, the maximum fines or prison sentence decided by the judge, under the new system of tiered penalties, depends on whether it is for a first, second or third or subsequent offence.
  • Relevant Provision – This allows for licensed premises to be shut for the day, or for longer in the case of further offences.
  • Fixed penalty provisions – For certain offences, the gardaí has the option of giving a person a fixed payment notice. 

The Fixed penalty notices are listed below:

fines

A person can pay the fixed payment notice within 28 days to avoid prosecution. But non-payment in the specified time means the person can be prosecuted.

A number of months ago, the government flagged that it wanted gardaí to be given powers to interrupt and prevent house parties.

Gardaí were given additional powers to direct people to leave the vicinity of a dwelling if they have a reasonable suspicion that an event in contravention of regulations is going on.

Gardaí can also direct the occupier to ask people leave, and can require the occupier to provide his or her name.

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However, they do not have powers to enter a house or home under these provisions but can attend at the main entrance.

A person who does not comply with a direction the gardaí in relation to an event that is in contravention of the regulation could face a summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €1,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or both.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has raised concerns with a move towards increased enforcement throughout the pandemic.

While the ICCL supports the public health effort and accepts that some restrictions on citizens’ rights are necessary, it has called on the government to use these powers in a manner “that complies with Ireland’s human rights legal obligations”.

“This means all decisions made to restrict our rights must be clearly necessary, as minimal as possible to protect public health and taken in a democratically robust manner – with transparency, consultation, and clear communication with the public,” it states.

The government statement says the new regulations will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. It said he gardaí will continue to use police through engagement, educations,encouragement and ”enforcement as a last resort”.

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