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Garda group raises concerns over 'practicality' of issuing on-the-spot fines for breaches of Covid-19 rules

It is understood fines of €1,000 will be issued to those who organise house parties during the Level 5 restrictions.

Image: Leon Farrell via RollingNews.ie

THE ASSOCIATION OF Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has described as “concerning” and “unclear” new proposed laws which will give gardaí new powers to issue on-the-spot fines for a breach of Covid-19 restrictions.

AGSI said they are concerned that the regulations were developed without any consultation with key stakeholders in relation to their practical application.

“We remain concerned about the practicalities of issuing on-the-spot fines in relation to house parties and other matters,” AGSI General Secretary Antoinette Cunningham said.

The government is tonight drafting new legislative amendments that will introduce a graduated scale fines for those who breach the restrictions, as part of an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

It is understood that fines of €1,000 will be given for the owners of houses, or tenants living in houses where house parties are held. 

There will be fines of up to €500 for other breaches of the Covid-19 restrictions which will come into force on Thursday, it’s understood.

Earlier, Cabinet agreed to give gardaí new powers that will allow them to issue fines to the occupier of a house where a house party or gathering is taking place.

Gardaí will be allowed to call to homes or other indoor venue and ask those present to disperse.

If people refuse to comply with a garda request to leave the party, those living in the house could be given a fine.

Under the new law, it will be presumed the occupier is the organiser, unless proved otherwise, and they will be issued with a fixed charge notice.

Under the current law, gardaí are not legally permitted to enter a home without a warrant. Under the new legislation, gardaí will still not be permitted to enter the home of someone without a warrant.

However, they will be given the power to prevent people from entering house parties or indoor gatherings which are in breach of the government’s Covid-19 restrictions.

If gardaí suspect someone is on their way to a house party or are in the vicinity of a house party which is about to begin they can direct them to leave the area in a peaceful manner.

‘More questions than answers’

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said if gardaí knock on the door on a house where a party is taking place, they will ask who owns the property, and can ask everyone to leave. 

She said there will always be “engagement first” before any fines are issued.

McEntee said people will always be engaged with and will be asked to comply. Only as a “last resort” will the fines be issued.

AGSI General Secretary Antoinette Cunningham said they listened “with interest” to McEntee this evening, adding: “We remain concerned about the practicalities of issuing on-the-spot fines in relation to house parties and other matters. 

It is clear from the Minister’s comments that we will not have the power to enter into a person’s home and on a practical level this means that if a person refuses to answer the door to a member of An Garda Síochána, where a house party is taking place, we remain powerless. 

When asked about giving gardaí powers to enter into someone’s home, McEntee said “that is not somewhere we want to go”.

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In terms of protests, she said under the law there is a right for peaceful protests to be held. 

However, the new legislation will stipulate that any large gatherings such as protests, people will be asked to wear face coverings, and if they refuse, they can be issued with a fixed penalty fine.

Cunningham said: “While we appreciate the government felt they had to do something to address the issue of house parties and protests, we fear that unless the practical enforcement elements are considered in these matters, the legislation may cause difficulties. 

Once again, we face going into lockdown with more questions than answers. Our members will require detail guidance on how these new proposed laws should be enforced. 

With reporting by Stephen McDermott and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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