Reports of Dubliners flocking to beaches in Mayo and Wexford during Tuesday's Cabinet meeting led to the Government to introduce radical emergency policing powers for this weekend.
Concerns expressed by Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring and Defence Minister Paul Kehoe about large numbers of Dubliners heading to their holiday homes during the two-hour meeting was a key consideration when ministers approved the move.
“Ringer said that locals were on to him going bananas about the Dubs flooding the areas like Westport and Louisburg while Kehoe was the same about the beaches in Wexford,” said one minister.
Health Minister Simon Harris last night signed into law strong regulations to increase Garda powers to restrict mass gatherings and limit people's movements this weekend.
At Cabinet, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Finian McGrath expressed their “great discomfort” at the emergency police powers introduced during this week's Cabinet meeting, sources have told the Irish Examiner.
While there was a “very good debate” on Tuesday about the scope and need for the measures, several ministers raised concerns about the extent of what was has been introduced and the impact it will have on people's liberty.
Among the concerns was the scale of the financial and custodial penalties persons found to be in breach of the regulations could be facing.
It is understood Mr Varadkar and Mr McGrath took a strong line that the likely penalty of €2,500 or a six-month jail term were on the excessive side, but Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the measures were necessary.
Sources have told the Irish Examiner that two key developments shaped the debate at the Cabinet table.
Firstly, were shots from the UK of police clearing people from parks and open spaces which raised alarm among some ministers.
Secondly, it was the concerns raised during the meeting by Mr Ring and Mr Kehoe about the “Dubs flooding the beaches” in Wexford and Mayo, against the explicit advice from health officials, which swung the mood.
It is also understood that Finian McGrath raised concern at Cabinet about the 2,000 adults with intellectual disabilities in care homes being at high risk of contracting Covid-19.
Mr McGrath, who has reduced the numbers in such institutions from 4,500 to 2,000, said these people have weakened immune systems and respiratory difficulties, and should be moved to more appropriate settings.
Mr Harris said that “it would not be a wise thing” to expect public health restrictions to lift after this weekend.
If we take the foot off the pedal, the progress we’ve made would be reversed.
Mr Harris said he did not want to see what had happened in other countries. “If we don’t make more progress we’re going to find ourselves in a difficult situation. We need to reduce the rate of growth,” he said.
The country cannot be “normal” this bank holiday weekend, he warned.
The restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:
- Shop for essential food and household goods;
- Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
- Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
- Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
- Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice physical distancing