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Separation between NPHET's guidance and government's decisions has 'become confused', TDs told

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties will be among a number of parties addressing the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 today.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE SEPARATION BETWEEN what the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommends and the government decides has “become confused”, according to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

In a submission to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 ahead of an appearance before TDs later today, the ICCL said that there must be “clear lines of separation” between the two going forward to ensure public confidence in whatever health measures are deemed necessary to try to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Furthermore, making clear what people must do under emergency laws will be essential going forward according to the ICCL.

“A situation where people are uncertain about what guidelines are legally required or what behaviour is or isn’t now illegal is simply untenable,” it will tell TDs today. “Laws must be published in advance and government must be very clear about what is a law and what is not.”

It comes as NPHET is due to meet to discuss the ongoing worsening situation in Dublin, where a further 182 cases were confirmed in the capital in last night’s figures.

Last month, localised restrictions were put into effect for Kildare, Offaly and Laois and there is a possibility that similar restrictions could be introduced in other areas as cases rise. 

The ICCL will tell Oireachtas members today that any future emergency legislation following on from those introduced at the onset of the pandemic “should be better human rights proofed” by introducing the need for government to ensure legislation is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and in consultation with other bodies.

Government had been considering new laws against the likes of house parties and pubs that flout guidelines in recent times, and the ICCL said clear justification as well as better communication will be needed around any new changes in the future as there had been “obvious confusion” among the public about what regulations were in force and when.

In its submission the Oireachtas, it said: “The linking of regulations to different sets of NPHET advice has demonstrated an evidence-led approach to policy-making and an effort to provide the scientific basis for some of the restrictions that have been introduced.

However, at times the separation of functions between NPHET as an expert public health advisory body, and government as a decision-making body which may propose legislation, has become confused. We believe that after six months of Covid measures, this is an opportune moment to review the nexus between NPHET’s advice and government decision making.

The ICCL said it was “essential” that the public can have confidence in the decisions being made and that NPHET’s independence and integrity as an expert advisory body is protected. 

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“Trust and solidarity is based on clear and transparent communication about why steps are being taken; and a confidence that decisions being made are rational, demonstrably necessary and that they are proportionate,” it said.

The ICCL added that criminal sanctions should be always be a measure of last resort when it comes to enforcing any emergency Covid legislation.

Today, the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 will also hear from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Free Legal Advice Centres, the Law Society of Ireland and the Bar of Ireland. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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