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Belfast city on New Year's Eve. PA Images
lockdown laws

Northern Ireland set to follow Scotland's legally enforceable stay-at-home orders

The Northern Ireland Executive is set to meet this afternoon and will brief the Assembly tomorrow.

NORTHERN IRELAND IS set to reintroduce legally enforceable stay-at-home orders as the UK tightens Covid-19 restrictions. 

Both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have confirmed the plans after Scotland yesterday introduced laws requiring people not to leave their homes except for essential purposes. 

“We will be putting the message of stay at home back into regulations, back into law, again,” Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said last night.

“The message will be stay at home unless you have a reason to leave home. Those reasons will be put into law. We think that is necessary given the huge rise in positive cases here in Northern Ireland.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also said that the stay at home advice will be put into legislation and travel rules will be updated.

The Northern Ireland Executive is set to meet this afternoon and will then brief the Assembly tomorrow. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said last night the law will be updated to reflect a new nationwide lockdown

Advice vs Law

The move to put stay-at-home orders into legislation is more severe than has been implemented in the Republic of Ireland during the pandemic.

As TCD Law Professor David Kenny outlined in previously, during the first lockdown most of the movement restrictions and other measures were binding rules, with potential criminal sanction for not following them. 

During subsequent lockdowns, the rules introduced to control behaviour were either unenforceable civil offences or simply advice. 

As part of the new lockdown laws implemented across mainland Scotland, it is now against the law for someone to leave their home or garden except for essential purposes. 

The Scottish Government has published a list of examples of “reasonable excuses” for people to leave their home, although people are told to “ stay as close to home as possible” even if their do leave. 

Among the reasonable excuses are for work that cannot be done from home, essential shopping or healthcare including Covid-19 testing or vaccination. 

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