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Human rights watchdog calls for more oversight into new Garda powers during Covid-19 crisis

Those convicted under the new rules could face a maximum of six months in prison or a fine of €2,500.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

IRELAND’S HUMAN RIGHTS watchdog has said more information is required to assess whether policing powers given to An Garda Síochána during the Covid-19 crisis are being “exercised proportionately”. 

Emergency legislation enacted in recent weeks has provided gardaí with new powers to arrest and detain members of the public who flout the advice of the public health authorities during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Those convicted under the new rules could face a maximum of six months in prison or a fine of €2,500.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has 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”.

“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 is also calling for parliamentary oversight on the implementation of the emergency legislation, either through a dedicated Oireachtas committee or an Oireachtas justice committee.  

“The Covid-19 crisis is already impacting, and will continue to impact, different people more acutely than others, including older people, people with disabilities, residents in Direct Provision, Travellers, homeless people, people experiencing domestic violence and people in precarious employment,” the IHREC said.

“It is also important that our collective response to the acute challenge of Covid-19 takes account of the particular needs of vulnerable groups.”

The Commission said it plans to meet with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and that it will keep the exercise of the emergency legislation and other State responses to the crisis “under active review”. 

The IHREC’s Acting Chief Commissioner Tony Geoghegan said: “The Covid-19 crisis is a challenge for the whole country, but it impacts some members of our society more acutely than others. 

“As we move into a phase where we are going to be living with the threat of this virus for some time, it is critical that the principle of equality and the dignity afforded by human rights are central to efforts to keep people safe and healthy.” 

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