Gardaí and the Courts Service took measures today to minimise attendance at a case management hearing of the High Court challenge by John Waters and Gemma O'Doherty aimed at striking down laws introduced by the State arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The application will be heard before a High Court judge next week.
In judicial review proceedings against the State and the Minister for Health, they seek to have various pieces of recently enacted legislation quashed by a judge of the High Court.
Today, Mr Justice Charles Meenan fixed the hearing if the applications seeking permission to bring the challenge for next Tuesday, May 5.
When the case was mentioned last week, more than 100 supporters of the plaintiffs gathered either in court number one of the Four Courts or in the Round Hall outside the courtroom, creating concerns about possible breach of social distancing guidelines introduced by the Chief Justice and the Presidents of the Courts arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Court number one was cleared of members of the public for the mention of the case before Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy last Tuesday.
The judge adjourned it for two weeks but listed it for mention today for an update on how the case is being progressed to hearing.
Today, that hearing was relocated to court number 25, the entrance to which is accessible only from Chancery Place, outside the Four Courts complex itself.
Barriers staffed by gardaí were placed at both ends of Chancery Place. Some of the gardaí were armed with holsters containing batons.
Conversation 👇 pic.twitter.com/eoX8VhOhlL— Dominic McGrath (@McGrathDominic) April 28, 2020
Supporters of Ms O’Doherty and Mr Waters gathered outside the main entrance to the Four Courts from 10am and were addressed there by Ms O’Doherty and Mr Waters.
They then sought to enter the Four Courts complex but, after being told by gardaí they had to access courtroom number 25 from Chancery Place, they moved towards Chancery Place. About 40 supporters, some carrying the national flag, were present.
A significant crowd outside the Four Courts this morning for the High Court action brought by Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters pic.twitter.com/RXLo5Nri9i— Dominic McGrath (@McGrathDominic) April 28, 2020
Gardaí prevented most of the supports entering onto Chancery Place and only Ms O’Doherty, Mr Waters and another woman accompanying them were let through.
In normal circumstances, Courtroom 25 can hold up to 50 people but, arising from the Covid-19 restrictions, it is believed only about 11 people in total will be permitted into the court today.
It is understood only the plaintiffs, the woman accompanying them, lawyers, court staff and one or two media will be permitted entry.
In their proceedings against the Minister for Health, Ireland and the Attorney General, the plaintiffs want the court to declare certain recently enacted legislation null and void.
The legislation at issue includes the 2020 Health Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, the 2020 Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act Covid-19 Act and the 1947 Health Act (Affected Areas) Order.
Their proceedings are also aimed at striking down temporary restriction regulations brought in under the 1947 Health Act.
The High Court had previously directed the application be heard in the presence of the respondents.
Patrick McCann SC, said the State is opposing the application for leave, and that the claims are not arguable.
Counsel said the action has been given "due priority" particularly by the Department of Health in what are challenging times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Counsel said the State hopes to furnish the applicants with its sworn statement outlining why leave should not be granted, by this Friday, or by Monday at the latest.
Counsel said the Attorney General also wanted to bring to the court's attention comments made by the applicants in the Four Courts when the matter was before the court last week.
Francis Kieran Bl for the Dáil, the Seanad and the Ceann Comhairle, which have been added as notice parties to the actions said his clients were also opposed to leave being granted.
While the case had been fixed for next Tuesday the judge suggested that the case be put back for a few days.
This, he said would allow the applicants consider the notice parties and State’s replies to claims, and would allow the applicants make any addition written submissions on the case if they so choose.
In reply, Mr Waters said that it was their preference that the case can go ahead as planned next Tuesday.
Mr Waters said the case was "one of the most important in our history" and repeated concerns he had previously expressed about any attempt to delay the hearing of the action.
However, if there was any delay by the other parties then the case could go back to Wednesday of next week, he added.
During the hearing, Ms O'Doherty said she believed her and Mr Waters' claims are arguable, and the court should have already granted the applicants leave.
Inviting the court to grant permission, she said that the people of Ireland are under "mass house arrest," and added that the gardaí were "using guns" to frighten people.
Mr Justice Meenan declined to grant leave, stating that it was up to the applicants to prove to the court that the threshold for granting permission has been crossed.
The legislation challenged includes the 2020 Health Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, the 2020 Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act Covid-19 Act, The 1947 Health Act (Affected Areas) Order.
Their proceedings are also aimed at striking down temporary restriction regulations brought in due to Covid-19 under the 1947 Health Act.
During the hearings the applicants repeated claims made at previous hearings about public access to the courts, and that only a limited number of people were allowed into court due to Covid-19 restrictions.
This, it was claimed, was in breach of the constitutional requirement that justice be administered in public.
Mr Waters added that the fact the media were present in the courtroom was not sufficient.
He said the media was "essentially corrupt" and that reporting about previous hearings lacked coverage of the real issues and were wrongly disparaging of himself and Ms O'Doherty.
Mr Justice Meenan said he was satisfied that the matter was being held in public, and in accordance with Article 34 of the Constitution.
While restrictions were in place he said that members of the media were present in court and could report on the proceedings.
The judge, who said a DAR recording of the hearing would be made available to Ms O'Doherty and Mr Waters, added that if the applicants had any issues about the reporting they could take it up with the media.
Ms O'Doherty told the court last week that what was happening regarding the lockdown was "outrageous". People should be allowed go about their business and normal life must be allowed resume, she said.
The vast majority of people are unaffected by Covid-19 which was "no threat to life" and people should be allowed to go outside and "build up a herd immunity", she said.