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President signs Bill allowing graduated fines for breaches in Covid-19 restrictions

The amendment expands the penalties that can be applied to offences when Covid-19 restrictions are broken.

Image: Shutterstock/Damien Storan

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D. HIGGINS has signed a Bill into law this afternoon that will allow a system of graduated fines to be introduced as sanctions for breaching Covid-19 regulations.

President Higgins signed the Health (Amendment) Bill 2020, which will amend the Health Act 1947 to expand the penalties that can be applied to offences when restrictions are broken.

A statement from the president’s press office today said that “having considered the Health (Amendment) Bill 2020, the President has signed the Bill and it has accordingly become law”.

The amendment, which was agreed on by the government earlier this week, gives additional enforcement powers to the gardaí to deal with breaches of the restrictions.

Under the 1947 Health Act, fines up to €2,500 and/or six months imprisonment can already be applied.

The amendment allows a system of tiered fines to be introduced, including fixed penalty notices that can be set up to €500.

The new legislation was drafted to give gardaí the power to enforce rules under the Level 5 restrictions that were imposed earlier this week.

Under Level 5, most forms of social activity have been stopped or strongly limited, including visits between households.

Fines of €1,000 will be issued to those who organise parties or house gatherings, or imprisonment for one month, or both.

For second offenders, a fine of up to €1,500 or three months imprisonment, or both, can be given, and third or subsequent offenders face a fine of up to €2,500 or six months imprisonment, or both.

Additionally, on the spot fines can be issues to those who breach other restrictions, such as the 5km limit on travel.

The maximum fine that can be given for breaking the 5km rule is €500.

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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that the system of penalties “may help to change behaviour” that went against the regulations.

“It is important to stress that the aim needs to be preventing the kind of behaviour which endangers others, rather than aiming to see a large number of fines issued for such behaviour,” McEntee said.

“This shouldn’t become a numbers game: the objective is to get people to behave responsibly, rather than impose punishment,” she said.

“The gardaí will continue policing as they have done throughout the pandemic: by encouraging people to comply with public health regulations.”

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