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Government to extend emergency Covid-19 powers until November

A government spokesperson said the measures were being extended as “a precaution”.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got approval from Cabinet today to extend four pieces of legislation.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got approval from Cabinet today to extend four pieces of legislation.
Image: Sam Boal

THE GOVERNMENT HAS agreed to extend a number of emergency Covid-19 powers that were due to expire next month until November.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got approval from Cabinet today to extend four pieces of legislation that underpin the State powers to enforce public health measures that were due to lapse on 9 June.

Separate to the legislation rolled over today, Cabinet agreed that Minister for Health would bring a motion before the Oireachtas to extend mandatory hotel quarantine.

The extension time for that is still to be determined.

The four pieces of legislation that are to be extended to 9 November include:

  • The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020
  • The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020
  • The Criminal Justice (Covid 19) (Enforcement Powers) Act 2020 
  • The Health (Amendment) Act 2020 

The laws provide for fines relating to travel restrictions and prohibit some events, including large gatherings, from taking place.

Under the Health Preservation Act 2020, the State can detain people to prevent the spread of Covid-19, requiring people to stay in their homes and require the wearing of face coverings.

Ministers also agreed to extend the Criminal Justice Enforcement Powers Act 2020.

It provides additional enforcement powers to the gardaí to address breaches by pubs of the Covid-19 regulations and to close them down temporarily where there is a refusal to comply.

There was no dissenting voices around the Cabinet table to the rollover of the powers for a further six months.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is “of the view that the public interest is best served by having these powers available to the Government to protect life and public health”, according to a government spokesperson.

They added that the measures were being extended as “a precaution” stating that it is “prudent” to have the legislation in place.

The spokesperson said the minister is “very conscious of the extraordinary nature of the provisions in question and the extent to which they have impacted on the normal conduct of life in society over the past year and, in particular, their impact on fundamental and civil rights”. 

“He is of the view, however, that the public interest could not be properly served otherwise than by having these powers available to the Government to protect life and public health,” he said.

It is understood that measures may be ended earlier by ministerial order should the public health situation improve to such a point that the measures are no longer needed.

The government states that these emergency measures will be subject to ongoing review, and will be repealed if circumstances allow.

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When asked by The Journal how the government plans to unwind such provisions, a government spokesperson said: “These will be unwound by not being renewed when it is deemed that the threat from the pandemic no longer exists.”

Last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he wants to see gardaí powers “returned to what they should be” as soon as possible.

“Because of the pandemic, we have passed some extraordinary laws in this house and signed into law some extraordinary regulations I never thought we would do and curtailed peoples freedom in a way I never thought we would in the past year or so, and we have given gardaí powers to do things that I never thought we would give the gardaí powers to do,” Varadkar replied.

“This is an unprecedented situation, this is a pandemic, it’s not over yet but as soon as we can expire those laws the better, in my view, cause I want to see people’s individual freedoms restored – and garda powers returned to what they should be.

“I know you and I may come from a very different angle philosophically when it comes to politics, but I think we both share [the importance of] individual liberty and personal freedom, and the sooner we can get rid of these laws the better,” he said.

The extension of the powers will have to be commenced through the Dáil “as soon as possible”, confirmed the government spokesperson.

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