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Simon Harris to extend emergency Garda powers until 18 May

The health minister said he would sign the updated regulations tonight.

Image: RollingNews.ie

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris this evening said he will sign an updated version of  regulations which give gardaí the powers to enforce Covid-19 distancing measures.

The powers will now extend until 18 May. 

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings this evening where the roadmap for the lifting of restrictions was announced, he said the regulations will ensure the gardaí can carry on with their duties until the end of the two-week extension to the current restrictions. 

Earlier today, the Taoiseach announced the current restrictions would remain in place until the 18 May, however some tweaks were made. 

The over-70s will be able to leave their homes for exercise now, and the general public will be able to move within a 5km radius of their home, instead of 2km. The new measures kick in on 5 May.

“I think it’s appropriate that we continue to have ability for An Garda Síochana to enforce these public health measures, but they’ll continue to do so in a manner that I think, has been quite excellent to date,” said Harris. 

The expanded power of the gardaí first kicked in on 7 April. The powers can see people fined €2,500 or face up to six months in jail if they fail to adhere to public health guidelines during the Covid-19 outbreak.

In the emergency legislation which enables these powers, it says: 

A member of the Garda Síochána who suspects, with reasonable cause, that a person is contravening or has contravened a provision of a regulation made under subsection (1) that is stated to be a penal provision, may, for the purposes of ensuring compliance with the regulation, direct the person to take such steps as the member considers necessary to comply with the provision.

In other words, if people are gathering in groups outdoors, not social distancing or leaving the house when they shouldn’t under the present guidelines, gardaí can direct them to comply with these restrictions.

A full explainer of the powers can be found here

Oversight

Earlier this week, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said that “more information is required to assess whether these new powers are being exercised proportionately and whether they are being implemented in line with human rights and equality principles”.

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“The Commission believes that more detailed data is required to consider how the implementation of this legislation is impacting people in different sectors of society.”

The IHREC also called for parliamentary oversight on the implementation of the emergency legislation, either through a dedicated Oireachtas committee or an Oireachtas justice committee.  

Junior Minister John Halligan also raised concerns about the powers recently, stating that a more “even-handed approach to policing during the Covid-19 outbreak” was needed. He also raised concerns about the treatment of protesters taking part in a demonstration outside Debenhams.

On Thursday, Garda Ombudsman (Gsoc) said it had received more than 70 complaints from members of the public about an aspect of enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions.

One in three of the complaints alleged gardaí were not observing social distancing or were not using gloves and/or masks.

On Tuesday Garda Commissioner Drew Harris revealed gardaí have invoked their emergency pandemic enforcement powers 76 times since they came into effect on 8 April.

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