Calls for 'sunset clause' as concerns raised about emergency coronavirus legislation

Concerns have been flagged about emergency legislation set to be implemented to tackle Coronavirus.

Calls for 'sunset clause' as concerns raised about emergency coronavirus legislation

Concerns have been flagged about emergency legislation set to be implemented to tackle Coronavirus.

The cabinet has signed off on a raft of measures which will see changes in social welfare as well as the ability to detain those suspected of having the virus and banning mass gatherings.

The new legislation is to be debated and voted on in the Dail on Thursday.

The Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) says more must be done to ensure restrictions on rights remain temporary.

"There's no doubt that the government's intention bringing forward this legislation is good in the short term, but we need to strong guarantees to make sure that that is the case," Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said.

"We need guarantees that these measures would only be short term.

"We have very strong constitutional protection of freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and liberty, and what's being proposed here, particularly with regard to freedom of assembly is quite severe.

"That a minister of government can ban meetings and events taking place with a pretty broad discretion.

"It's absolutely essential right in any democracy, the right to peaceful protest, the right to the right to peaceful assembly, it's essential that we return to strong protection of constitutional rights as quickly as possible after this."

Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)

The bill states that these powers will only be enforced until the ninth of May, however, the government will be able to extend beyond that.

ICCL suggests an alternative safeguard would be that the Dail would have to vote for any extension, placing power with the Oireachtas.

The group point to Ireland's history of extending emergency measures beyond emergency times, including the Special Criminal Court and the Offences Against the State Act both, formed part of the State’s response to the Troubles, which, in the years since the Troubles have ended, has seen their remit extended.

"Another safeguard would be that each extension can only be for a limited period of time," Mr Herrick added.

"We have a history of short term measures becoming long term. We can never guarantee what a future government might do.

"There may be people that might argue in the future that it's important to retain these extreme powers.

"I think that it would be I think a lot of comfort to the public to know that these extreme measures, and that's what they are, will only be in place for the minimum period of time and that there are strong guarantees to ensure that that's the case."

Likewise, Independent TD Denis Naughten has called for a "sunset clause" to ensure rights are protected: “These are very powerful legal provisions which must only be used to specifically deal with the current national health crisis, and we must be able to have the law repealed after this threat has abated.''

Both Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty and Minister for Health Simon Harris have said they hope the government will not need to enact the powers to monitor mass gatherings or treat those affected by the virus, but who refuse to self-isolate.

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