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'It's now your place of residence': Garda commissioner says those in holiday homes must stay there

The powers afforded to gardaí will be in place for four days and may be extended.

Additional patrols will be out in force this weekend.
Additional patrols will be out in force this weekend.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Apr 8th 2020, 12:50 PM

GARDA COMMISSIONER Drew Harris has warned that those who are currently in holiday homes across Ireland must remain there indefinitely and not return to their main homes, or they will be breaching new regulations in force from today. 

Harris was speaking about new policing regulations signed-off on by Health Minister Simon Harris, along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Attorney General last night.

Measures in place at present mean members of the public must stay at home, except to gather essential goods, to provide essential care, or to get a brief spell of exercise within 2km of their home. 

Only essential workers, such as hospital staff and those in the food processing industry, are permitted to leave their homes outside of these measures. 

But with the milder weather of recent days set to continue into the weekend, the Government, on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team, have given gardaí additional powers to arrest or detain individuals who might be travelling to holiday homes or caravan parks over the long weekend. 

Those arrested could face a heavy fine of €2,500 or a jail sentence.

Gardaí will be setting up fixed checkpoints across the country to ensure the public is complying and all those who have already travelled to holiday homes must now remain there until the measures are lifted, he said. 

“Your home is your place of residence but if you have temporary residence somewhere else, that is also a place of residence, so if you’re at your holiday home now, you need to stay there. It is now your place of residence. 

“If you are thinking of travelling there, don’t. That is not an essential journey. If you have travelled to your holiday home now, that’s where you are.”

Speaking about the regulations more generally, he said the public has largely been compliant so far, but that these measures will help ensure a small cohort of people ignoring the guidelines can be forced to become compliant. 

We are seeing people moving for non-essential reasons, and we’re also seeing house parties so these are areas that we feel may need the regulations in terms of enforcing restrictions that are in place at the moment.

“Our approach is not changing. We’re a community based policing service, we are applying the same tact as we have all week. It will be one of informing people, engaging with them, persuading them to comply with the regulations and enforcement is only at the very end of non-compliance by an individual. 

“We hope to see, and we think we will see, very few requirements to actually use the regulations… and we still will depend upon the vast majority of our society acting in compliance with health advice, and these regulations are there to back that up.”  

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has insisted there will be no change in the current garda strategy and that new emergency powers afforded to gardaí from today will only be used as a “last recourse” for those who flout emergency public health measures. 

The measures will be in place for the next four days, in line with the current emergency measures lasting until Sunday, but Health Minister Simon Harris said these measures are likely to be extended. 

The justice minster, speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme this morning, also insisted that gardaí will continue patrols and checkpoints as they have done in recent weeks and said arrest and detention powers available to them now will only be used in rare cases. 

“This is the fourth week of these stringent emergency measures. We’re not there yet, we still, unfortunately, have cases increasing, we have deaths increasing, we’ve some of the way to go yet, and that’s why we have these emergency regulations now being brought into force,” he said. 

“There is a concern that I share, that compliance may be difficult to sustain now over the coming days with the holiday period, the fine weather. 

Some people maybe coming more complacent, so it’s important therefore that the gardaí have clarity as to the regulatory arrangements and another reason why Minister Harris signed the regulations into law last night. 

“There is no change in the garda strategy, what the gardaí will continue to do is engage and encourage, and explain and assist people, but if there are one or two people or a small number of people who wish to deliberately flout the regulations and thereby endangering the public health of people, all then the law will be there as a recourse, but as a last recourse. 

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The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, however, has warned that gardaí should only use these powers to detain and charge people for flouting the regulations “minimally” if at all. 

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Health Minister Simon Harris said the majority of people are already compliant with the emergency measures introduced on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

“The Irish people are showing massive resilience, everybody is doing their very best despite the fact it involves significant sacrifice and challenge for you and your family to stay at home,” he said.

“In consultation with both the garda commissioner and the chief medical officer, the Taoiseach and I decided yesterday was the appropriate time to sign these [new garda measures].

They’re effectively measures that gardaí can have in their back pocket in case they need them, we’re not expecting them to be used much, the gardaí aren’t expecting to use them much, and remember gardaí have already been out patrolling.

Harris said he expects gardaí will use the powers in “very exceptional circumstances”. 

Harris alluded to a pub in Temple Bar which remained open in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in Ireland, and which lead to pubs and later all non-essential services being closed indefinitely. 

“We’ve seen it in the past. We saw the famous pub in Temple bar that opened and that upset a lot of people. People said ‘hang on a second, I’m trying my very best at home to keep my family safe…’ so we do need to have these powers.

“If someone is showing disrespect to your health, to my health and risking your family’s health, and my family’s health, and refusing to comply, gardaí can ensure they do comply.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to announce an extension of existing Covid-19 measures over the coming days. 

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