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Supporters kept from entering Four Courts for hearing on Waters and O'Doherty case

There was a heavy garda presence today as the pair challenged the State over the Covid-19 restrictions.

A crowd gathered outside the Fourt Courts today for the hearing.
A crowd gathered outside the Fourt Courts today for the hearing.
Image: TheJournal.ie

SUPPORTERS OF GEMMA O’Doherty and John Waters were not allowed into the Four Courts building today for a High Court action challenging the State over the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions. 

With a heavy garda presence outside and around the Four Courts in Dublin, supporters were prevented from joining O’Doherty and Waters inside the building. 

The two have launched a legal challenge against the State over its decision to implement emergency restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

O’Doherty addressed the crowd before entering court today. 

Gardaí blocked off the road onto Chancery Place after over 20 supporters of O’Doherty and Waters, one carrying a tricolour, gathered outside the Four Courts building at around 10.30am this morning. 

Only O’Doherty, Waters and one other supporter were allowed to enter the small courtroom in the Four Courts complex following discussions with gardaí. 

Gardaí did not seek to disperse the crowd, which waited outside the Four Courts for the duration of the short hearing. 

Ahead of the hearing today there had been concerns after up to 100 people gathered in the Round Hall of the Four Courts ahead of the first hearing last Tuesday. 

A group photo also emerged of around 50 people gathered on the quays outside the courts following the hearing.

The Courts Service had said that it was “disappointed and appalled” that people chose to attend in large numbers, stating that they had “endangered themselves, gardaí, court staff and court users to infection”.

In court today, Mr Justice Meenan heard the case, in which O’Doherty and Waters are asking for a judicial review of the restrictions. 

The two were asked by the court to respond to the State’s submission that there is no arguable case for judicial review. 

“From the court’s point of view, simply stating that you have an arguable case doesn’t mean you have an arguable case,” Mr Justice Meenan said. 

The High Court had previously directed that the application for permission to bring the challenge be heard in the presence of the respondents.

The State represented by Patrick McCann SC, said the State is opposing the application for leave, and that the claims are not arguable.

Counsel said the action has been given “due priority” particularly by the Department of Health in what are challenging times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Counsel said the state hopes to furnish the applicants with its sworn statement outlining why leave should not be granted, by this Friday, or by Monday at the latest.

Counsel said the Attorney General also wanted to bring to the court’s attention comments made by the applicants in the Four Courts when the matter was before the court last week.

Francis Kieran Bl for the the Dail, the Seanad and the Ceann Comhairle, which have been added as notice parties to the action because part of the challenge concerns how the laws were enacted, said his clients were also opposed to leave being granted.

While the case had been fixed for next Tuesday, the judge suggested that the case be put back for a few days.

This, he said would allow the applicants consider the notice parties and State’s replies to claims, and would allow the applicants to make any addition written submissions on the case if they so choose.

In reply, Waters said that it was their preference that the case go ahead as planned next Tuesday.

Waters said the case was “one of the most important in our history”, and repeated concerns he had previously expressed about any attempt to delay the hearing of the action.

However if there was any delay by the other parties then the case could go back to Wednesday of next week, he added.

During the hearing O’Doherty said that she believed her and Waters’ claims are arguable, and the court should have already granted the applicants leave.

Inviting the court to grant permission, she said that the people of Ireland are under “mass house arrest,” and added that the gardai were “using guns” to frighten people.

The legislation challenged includes the 2020 Health Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, the 2020 Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act Covid-19 Act, The 1947 Health Act (Affected Areas) Order.

Their proceedings are also aimed at striking down temporary restriction regulations brought due to the Covid-19 pandemic under the 1947 Health Act.

Access to the courts

During the hearings the applicants repeated claims made at a previous hearing about public access to the courts, and that only a limited number of people were allowed into court due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It was claimed this was in breach of the constitutional requirement that justice be administered in public.

Waters added that the fact the media were present in the courtroom was not sufficient.

He said the media was “essentially corrupt” and that reporting about previous hearings lacked coverage of the real issues and were wrongly disparaging of himself and O’Doherty.

Mr Justice Meenan said that he was satisfied that the matter was being held in public, and in accordance with Article 34 of the Constitution.

While restrictions were in place he said that members of the media were present in court and could report on the proceedings.

The judge, who said a DAR recording of the hearing would be made available to O’Doherty and Waters, added that if the applicants had any issues about the reporting they could take it up with the media.

The next hearing is scheduled to be held on Tuesday 5 May. Leaving the court today, O’Doherty declined to speak to reporters.

With reporting from Aodhan O’FaolainComments are closed due to ongoing legal proceedings

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