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Human rights group calls on health minister to justify extending emergency garda powers

Figures show the emergency powers were invoked a total of 192 times over the past month.

Garda policing of the pandemic.
Garda policing of the pandemic.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

THE IRISH COUNCIL for Civil Liberties has written to Health Minister Simon Harris asking him to demonstrate the need to extend emergency powers afforded to gardaí during the Covid-19 pandemic beyond 18 May. 

The ICCL has repeatedly raised concerns and called for clarity on the need for gardaí to have the ability to detain and arrest members of the public at the direction of health professionals. 

In a letter to Harris today, it said “rights can be restricted for public health reasons, but only where the most minimal restrictions possible are used, and their necessity is demonstrated,” according to the Irish and European legislation.

The ICCL is now asking the minister to demonstrate a need for these emergency powers to be extended beyond 18 May when the first phase of reopening is set to begin. 

“During the first phases of the public health restrictions on our rights, government and gardaí operated by consent – with high levels of successful compliance,” ICCL’s executive director, Liam Herrick said. 

“The expansion of police powers with the threat of arrest, huge fines and imprisonment hanging over the population is an extreme measure which must be justified. The Government must show that these powers are necessary to achieve the public health aims and that consent, advice and guidance are not sufficient.”

Herrick said the time has come to lift those additional powers but added that “if the Government has evidence of the contrary, it should make its case before the Oireachtas and the people”.

“ICCL is calling for a full return to policing by consent and not coercion,” he added. 

Yesterday, latest figures from An Garda Síochána showed the emergency powers were invoked a total of 192 times between 8 April and 9 May. 

These include both arrests and incidents without arrest where the name and address of individuals were taken for consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions on a decision to issue charges. 

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In addition, pre-existing enforcement powers were used in 1,432 incidents where other offences were disclosed while gardaí were enforcing public health measures.  

These range from incidents such as drink driving or disqualified drivers detected at checkpoints, to drugs and weapons seizures, and public order offences.

A statement from gardaí said “the number of incidents involving other suspected crimes continues to far exceed the number of cases involving only breaches of Government restrictions”.

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