Watchdog questions new garda powers to issue house party fines

Watchdog questions new garda powers to issue house party fines

Speaking following the announcement of further powers for gardaí to break up house parties, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties said: If we're getting down into criminalising people's behaviour around so-called house parties, we still face some of the same constitutional and other problems we've had up to now." Picture: Larry Cummins

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has expressed concern at the introduction of new garda powers to issue fines to house party organisers and attendees.

Yesterday, it was announced that spot fines of up to €500 are to be introduced for people found to be in breach of general Covid-19 guidelines.

As part of a series of graduated fines agreed upon by the government, people who throw house parties could be hit with a €1,000 fine for a first offence, €1,500 for a second and €2,500 for a third offence.

Speaking on Newstalk this morning, Irish Council of Civil Liberties Executive Director Liam Herrick said the new laws were "a mistake."

He said: "What we’ve had up to now is a system of community policing based on prosecution as a last resort.

"Since April, we've had over 20 different regulations under the health act. 

"Some of them had penal provisions, which means not only are the guards engaging with people and telling them what to do, but they do have the power to prosecute people if they're resistant, and they're really defiant and refusing to comply.

That overall approach has really been centred on this idea that this is a public health crisis, not a crime phenomenon.

"We need to be cautious that we don’t get the guards involved in people's private lives, and that we don’t jeopardise the longer-term relationship between the community and the police.

Mr Herrick said the system of fines introduced in the UK, to which the Irish system will be similar, had been "a complete failure".

ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick questioned the new laws. Picture: ICCL/Facebook
ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick questioned the new laws. Picture: ICCL/Facebook

Mr Herrick also questioned how the laws would be applied in practice. 

He said: "There is some reference [in the proposal] to penalising people organising house parties, but there’s already a penalty of up to €2,500 euros for organising an event in violation of public health guidelines, as things stand.

If we're getting down into criminalising people's behaviour around so-called house parties, we still face some of the same constitutional and other problems we've had up to now. 

"An unworkable law can cause damage," he added.

Given that, under the new measures, gardaí can issue fines to people who they believe were planning to attend a house party, Mr Herrick questioned how "a reasonable threshold of suspicion" could realistically be applied in that situation. 

He said: "The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors expressed their concern last night about this, how does a guard suspect that somebody is on their way to a house party?

"Is the young person with a six-pack of beer more likely to be under 'reasonable suspicion' than the middle-aged, middle-class person with a bag full of bottles of wine?

"These are the kind of practical policing problems that we've really gone to a lot of lengths to avoid up to now, which I think we're opening ourselves up to unnecessarily," he added.

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