We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

extension to powers

Government says it's 'not practical' to give Dáil scrutiny to Covid emergency powers

A number of politicians have said they are not prepared to sign off on giving ‘wide ranging powers’ to the health minister.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been criticised for not carrying out the “most basic human rights assessments” or “some level of democratic oversight” of the extension of Covid-19 emergency powers. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil today that “it is not possible to have pre-legislative scrutiny” on the emergency legislation that is currently being extended in to the new year, stating that to do so would take up to six months. 

During a debate on the emergency powers this evening, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said to have debate and scrutiny on the emergency legislation would more or less take 33 weeks, six hours a day, three days a week.

“That’s not practical,” said the health minister. 

A number of politicians, such as People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett, said they were not prepared to sign off on giving “wide ranging powers” to the minister unless he can give an evidence based argument as to what exactly the purpose and “end game” is in dealing with Covid-19.

Measures being extended into the new year include the requirement to wear face masks in certain places and the rules around Covid passes for hospitality and international travel.

Galway TD Catherine Connolly rounded on the Taoiseach this afternoon stating that she has repeatedly highlighted the Government’s failure to carry out even the “most basic human rights assessment of any of the draconian legislation enacted by this Dáil”. 


“While this might be understandable in the initial months, following the declaration of a pandemic back on 11 March 2020, when there was a lack of information, a sense of urgency and an overwhelming sense of fear, almost 22 months later it is simply unacceptable and unforgivable,” she said. 

Connolly said the importance of carrying out a human rights assessment has been highlighted repeatedly by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Regulations restricting rights under emergency legislation, without Oireachtas scrutiny, have been in place since March 2020, she told the Taoiseach. 

She said thorough, effective scrutiny of any law that potentially restricts rights is necessary under the Constitution.

The onus is on the Government to demonstrate that such measures are necessary and proportionate, she added. 

Connolly continued: 

Instead of that assessment, on even the most basic level, we have got the language of division, demonisation and discrimination. The current spin, which has changed many times, to suit Government agenda or indeed some of the pharmaceutical companies, is now all about personal responsibility.
That is deeply duplicitous, because for those who have reflected, researched and come to a considered decision that a vaccination is not for them, for one of many reasons, this group, which is far from homogenous, is now the subject of appalling comments and screaming headlines.

Connolly queried what that government was doing to ensure that those that cannot take the vaccine for medical reasons are given access to services, stating that a consultant has written to her to highlight how absolutely no provision has been made for them.

Review of regulations

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said such “draconian laws” have “massive impacts on the livelihoods of our citizens throughout the country”.

He asked when the government will carry out a review on one aspect, the Covid Pass, which is being extended to other areas other than hospitality. Such reviews have been carried out in other countries, such as Scotland.

The Taoiseach defended the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, stating:

These are not laws one would use in ordinary times. They are used for a purpose, they are specific and they are designed to try to protect lives and health. That is the motivation.

“The laws were previously debated and approved by this House. We are guided by public health advice. There is sometimes a tendency to be annoyed and frustrated by that advice and so on.

“The key issue is that one cannot manage a pandemic without a legislative framework that allows one to be nimble, quick and to do things to protect lives and the health of people.

“There is a parliament here which can debate these issues, but it is not possible to do it without public health legislation of the kind we have. It is not the kind of legislation any government wants to bring in. Why would we want to bring in legislation that restricts normal life? There is no joy in doing that,” said Martin. 

During a debate on the emergency powers this evening, Donnelly hit out at Sinn Féin stating that they had tabled amendments to the laws that could never implemented.

Need for oversight

Sinn Féin is calling for every relevant statutory instrument made by the Minister in relation to Covid-19 emergency powers to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas not less than 48 hours before they come into effect.

The party is also calling for such measures to be nullified within 21 days of their enactment, rather than having extensions that last for months.

This evening the health minister urged Sinn Fein’s health spokesperson David Cullinane to “think again” about voting against the bill “because the message that that sends to all of our health care workers”.

Cullinane replied that he is only looking for democratic accountability.

“I never said that I did not support the public health measure that were brought in. There are things I would have done differently. There are certainly things I would have handled better.

“For an example, when the regulation was brought in, and the change was made in relation to children wearing a face mask. What I said was I would have come at that differently. I would have looked at it as an advisory measure. I certainly would not have been sending out instructions through the department that children for example, should be excluded from school,” he said. 

Cullinane told Donnelly: “This bill, essentially Minister, gives you the power to make regulations and you alone.”

He said the Opposition are being asked to give Donnelly and the government the power to interpret the public health advice “as you see fit”

“Not as I see fit, or anybody from opposition sees fit, as you see fit…. if I support giving you a blank cheque, I am as culpable as anybody else and I’m not prepared to put myself in that position because I don’t believe it is right,” he said. 

This evening, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting that it was not yet clear if vaccines will need to be tweaked to combat the Omicron Covid-19 variant. However, he encouraged all to avail of the three-dose programme.

He also said an announcement on business supports for those affected by the new Covid restrictions is expected tomorrow.

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel