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Justice Committee: Govt should create strategy to address premature release of info into media

The Joint Committee on Justice released its report ‘Civil Liberties during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ today.

Justice Committee Cathaoirleach and Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless
Justice Committee Cathaoirleach and Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless
Image: RollingNews.ie

AN OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE report has recommended that the Government devise a strategy to address the premature release of information into the media. 

The Joint Committee on Justice released its report ‘Civil Liberties during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ today, putting forward a series of recommendations to the Minister based on stakeholder engagement held on 22 June. 

“The Committee was pleased to facilitate an examination on the topic,” Committee Cathaoirleach James Lawless said. 

“In acknowledging the unforeseen impact of the pandemic and the need to introduce restrictions for the protection of public health, the Committee are cognizant of the unprecedented scale of restrictions placed on the public and of the immensely challenging situation facing countries and people on a global scale to try and contain the spread of the pandemic,” Lawless said. 

“In reaching out to stakeholders to gain diverse perspectives on the curtailment of civil liberties during the pandemic, the written submissions and witnesses provided the Committee with an insight into several areas where they deemed it was most important to reflect on the approach to policing and governing the pandemic,” he said.

“The Committee has made a number of recommendations … it is hoped that these will receive due consideration.”

Recommendations

The Committee recommended that the use of individual discretion by members of An Garda Síochána when policing public health regulations ought to be supported by clear messaging from Government, to ensure that this discretion is applied appropriately, fairly and equitably.

It recommended the diversification of channels through which the Government communicates with the wider public, to ensure that minority groups have access to accurate information which has been adapted to best meet their individual needs.

The Committee also recommended that the Government devise a strategy to address the premature release of information into the media, along with tackling the issue of disinformation in media and online, to ensure that the wider public receives information which is accurate, reliable, and attributable to the relevant decision-making structures.

It was recommended that a regular human rights impact assessment on the impact of the emergency situation and restrictions on at-risk groups be carried out in order to ensure Government takes appropriate and sufficient measures to mitigate negative impacts.

Gardaí

The Committee recommended that the Garda Commissioner collects and disseminates comprehensive, detailed and disaggregated data regarding the exercising of all Covid-19 related enforcement powers by An Garda Síochána. This is being recommended to ensure that their actions in this regard are compliant with Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.

In relation to policing, it also recommended that the office of the Garda Commissioner release data relating to the geographical spread of Covid-19 checkpoints, to ascertain the extent to which particular towns and regions are policed more frequently than others.

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The Committee recommended that An Garda Síochána provide data on the use of ‘anti-spit hoods’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Additionally, the use of ‘anti-spit hoods’ by An Garda Síochána ought to be reviewed, both in the context of policing during public health emergencies and beyond, due to concerns regarding the implications of their use on individual human rights and dignities,” the Committee said. 

The Committee has welcomed the introduction of Operation Faoiseamh and the potential for this approach to become a feature of policing regarding incidences of domestic violence.

It is recommended that a review be undertaken of this operation in terms of its effectiveness and that the potential for it to be retained in future be assessed.

The Committee also recommended that, in the event of future restrictions on public gatherings, specific guidance is issued, for both the public and An Garda Síochána, regarding the management of protests and the implications for the fundamental rights of individuals to gather in this way.

The full Committee report can be read here

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