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Cabinet agrees gardaí entering homes to shut down house parties would be an 'extreme measure'

Government has u-turned on the idea of sending officers into peoples’ homes to break up gatherings.

The justice minister said they had to consider just how far we are prepared to go with enforcement laws the would allow for gardaí to enter into peoples' homes.
The justice minister said they had to consider just how far we are prepared to go with enforcement laws the would allow for gardaí to enter into peoples' homes.
Image: LEAH FARRELL; RollingNews.ie

JUSTICE MINISTER HELEN McEntee has said that Cabinet felt that allowing gardaí enter the private home of someone to shut down a house party would be an “extreme measure”.

In what is being described as a u-turn by government, the Cabinet decided against including new enforcement powers into proposed legislation that will seek to shut down pubs that break public health guidelines. 

Earlier this month, the government flagged that it wanted gardaí to be given powers to interrupt and prevent house parties.

“We do need immediate sanctions where there’s a clear breach of the public health measures because that clearly has a ripple effect across the wider community,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin said at the time.

It is understood that the issue around how to tackle house parties was subject to a lengthy discussion among ministers.

The constitutional rights of people and their homes was raised around the Cabinet table, and some ministers felt that the penal provision went too far.

Speaking to reporters this evening about why the government backtracked on the idea of sending officers into peoples’ homes to break up gatherings, the justice minister said concerns had been raised by the gardaí and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) about house parties and social gatherings.

“We looked at a number of options over the last week and a half and what we’ve decided today… is that a statutory instrument would be implemented, around the number of people which can gather in a home, it wouldn’t be a penal provision. 

“I think we have to look at how far do we go here, particularly when we’re talking about somebody’s home. It was found that this would be perhaps an extreme measure, particularly around entering somebody’s home,” she said.

“We really want to work with people here and we’ve seen throughout all of this that people have complied in the vast majority of instances… So this is why we agreed and came to the decision that we did today,” said McEntee.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that while there has been a lot of talk about international travel and workplace clusters, over 90% of  clusters have occurred in private homes, not just house parties, but smaller gatherings too, he said.

“That’s why we’re asking people to limit to six, the number of people who you invite into your home at any given time. That is now going to be underpinned by regulation, so it will be underpinned by law, but it won’t be a criminal offence. You won’t be prosecuted but it will be a civil matter,” he said.

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He said this is no different than some of the other regulations that were underpinned by law such as the distance you could travel outside your home a number of months ago.

“This really isn’t about us charging into peoples homes… this is really about asking people to stick with us. We know that over 90% of cases and cluster infections are happening in private homes, and the only way we can stop that is by people limiting the number of people that they invite into their home.

“No more than six people at any one time. No more than three households, that is really what we are asking people to do because that’s what will stop the virus spreading from person to person, and allow us to resume reopening our economy,” said Varadkar.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin had all voiced their opposition to proposals to grant gardaí the new powers.

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