Business groups have urged the Government to recruit an army of civilian health enforcers and to replace gardaí as a way out of the worst of the level 5 Covid-19 lockdown.
It comes as the Government considers potential measures to lift some of the Covid-19 restrictions — but in ways that will not lead to a repeat of the disastrous reopening of the economy in December that led to a new wave of cases and deaths from the pandemic.
Industry groups representing businesses as diverse as truckers and small businesses say the health and safety laws administered by the Health and Safety Authority could be used to police restaurants and non-essential retailers.
Aidan Flynn, general manager of the Freight Transport Association Ireland, said the lessons learned from the regime of antigen testing for truckers crossing international borders is that enforcement works.
He said the Health and Safety Authority, by working closely with HSE, could bolster its role beyond managing face masks and hand sanitisers to include "more robust" checks on restaurants and non-essential shops during trading hours, as a way of policing bad behaviour of some businesses and not punish compliant businesses.
He said "the elephant in the room is how they enforce it" and a bigger role for the HSA would help lift the unreasonable burden on gardaí to check on pubs and takeaways.
Calling for a recruitment drive, Mr Flynn said there is a valid expectation there will be enough people to dispense vaccines, and a recruitment drive of civilians to enforce reopening rules would help.
"There needs to be rigorous enforcement and closure of businesses that are not obeying," he said.
Neil McDonnell, chief executive of business group Isme, said essential retail and factories that had remained open had shown the way. He urged the State to adopt a policy of helping to protect workers and customers by enforcing the rules.
John Whelan, a leading business consultant, said "the big mistake" was in closing building sites and that with proper enforcement that businesses could reopen.
Duncan Graham, managing director of industry group Retail Excellence, said he hopes click-and-collect will resume but expects little in terms of widespread reopening.
Vintners’ Federation of Ireland chief executive Padraig Cribben criticised the Government for keeping pubs in the dark about reopening. Irish Tourism Industry Confederation CEO Eoghan O’Mara Walsh urged the Government to quickly apply the EU's "digital certificate" to kickstart international travel.
Professor John O’Brennan at Maynooth University also said there was a strong case for reopening construction as long as the building sites follow the rules. However, Prof O'Brennan pointed to Eastern Europe and Italy where the number of deaths has climbed in recent weeks. He said "unfortunately" the lesson is that the Republic will need to stay at level 5 restrictions until the vaccines provide a level of certainty in early summer.