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Cabinet approves the drafting of new law to cover all emergency Covid powers

It is understood a sunset clause will be included in the new legislation.

The current emergency powers are due to lapse in January and February 2022.
The current emergency powers are due to lapse in January and February 2022.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

LEGISLATION TO COMBINE all the emergency Covid-19 powers to government – including mask wearing and Covid passes – is to be drafted following Cabinet approval this afternoon. 

The Covid regulations are currently spread across four Acts of legislation and are due to expire on 9 January and 9 February 2022. 

Government now wants a new single umbrella piece of legislation dealing with all the government powers to be passed by the Oireachtas before 16 December. 

There are four key pieces of legislation focused on public health measures currently in place deal with such things as the Covid pass, the wearing of face masks, mandatory quarantine, and garda enforcement powers. 

The Government spokesperson confirmed that it is intended to replace these pieces of legislation “with one piece of primary legislation, a single act, to be passed by the Oireachtas by December 16 2021″.

“This is to ensure current public health measures can remain in place and State can react to the pandemic,” he said. 

The Journal asked the Government Press Secretary this evening if it is intended that the new Act will also include a sunset clause which would specify a date in which the law would fall. 

The spokesperson confirmed that there will be an end date for the powers in this new legislation, similar to the outgoing emergency legislation.

“The Government will not look to have these additional powers for longer than necessary,” he said.

Following criticism from a number of TDs in relation to the extension of Covid-19 emergency powers in May of this year, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly brought forward an amendment to ensure that there could only one more roll over date of his powers, until February next year. 

Given that the minister is now restricted in extending the regulations beyond February under the current legal framework, government sources said the new law will permit two date extensions.

The time period – or the duration of the extension to the legislation – is not yet clear. Sources state that the detail is still to be worked out. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been criticism from a number of TDs in relation to the lack Dáil debate and scrutiny of the emergency measures. 

In March 2020, a number of TDs raised concerns about the time-limited review, with Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly, who was in Opposition at the time, stating that there was a need for “checks and balances” in the law.

Earlier this month, the government extended the emergency measures, such as the continued requirement for wearing face coverings in certain settings, the use of the Covid pass and other measures relating to the hospitality and events sectors until February 2022.

During the debate, the health minister said those who opposed the extension were “reckless”. 

Independent Galway TD Catherine Connolly criticised the minister for his remarks, stating that TDs were being asked to extend “draconian legislation without the slightest justification in the minister’s response as to why, without any human rights assessment and without any explanation of the contradictions”.

She said constituents are constantly pointing out contradictions over and over in the way they have been treated under the restrictions. 

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Connolly spoke about the “utter danger there is to our democracy in the way the Government is dealing with this pandemic”.

“We are certainly not all in it together. It is discriminatory and unacceptable, and it frightens me almost as much as pandemic has frightened me, in terms of trying to protect people…

“I am absolutely dispirited about the twisting of language and the divide and conquer aspect. There is a demonisation rather than building up a public health system to face this pandemic and the next one, which is inevitable,” she said. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said during the same heated debated that emergency powers are temporary in nature but when fully utilised they do have an impact on freedoms.

“These are serious regulations. They do have an impact right across the State, across our communities and across our economy,” he said.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has previously spoken out about its concerns about the extension of the Covid Pass system, stating that it gives rise to serious human rights and equality concerns.

ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said it was meant to be a temporary system, stating that government should also provide for a negative test as a means for people who are not vaccinated to enter premises covered by the indoor regulations.

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