Cabinet extend Covid powers until November 'on the nod'

The legislation allows gardaí to set up checkpoints or arrest people who do not comply with coronavirus guidelines such as social distancing
Cabinet extend Covid powers until November 'on the nod'

Under the terms of this legislation, the State can detain people to prevent the spread of Covid-19, restrict travel, require people to stay in their homes and require the wearing of face coverings. File photo: Denis Minihane

The pandemic powers granted to An Garda Siochana and other State agencies have been extended by the Cabinet until November 9, it has emerged.

At a weekly meeting of ministers on Tuesday morning, Cabinet members agreed to extend four pieces of legislation which give extensive and extraordinary powers to the State “on the nod”.

The extraordinary powers, introduced as part of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic were rolled out under the Health Preservation Act 2020.

Under the terms of this legislation, the State can detain people to prevent the spread of Covid-19, restrict travel, require people to stay in their homes and require the wearing of face coverings.

Ministers also agreed to extend the Criminal Justice Enforcement Powers Act 2020.

Under this act, gardaí are granted powers to inspect premises such as pubs and close them down temporarily where there is a refusal to comply.

Ministers also agreed to extend legislation that allows gardaí to set up checkpoints or arrest people who do not comply with Covid-19 guidelines such as social distancing.

The Health (Amendment) Act 2020 will also be extended which allows for mandatory hotel quarantine legislation.

Under this legislation, the State can require passengers arriving from countries with a high incidence of Covid-19 to quarantine for 14 days in a designated hotel.

The measures which were due to lapse on June 9 have now been extended until November.

The continuing presence of these measures despite the country’s re-opening has been the subject of concern within Government parties, but government spokespersons insisted the measures have been deemed necessary.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s spokesman said despite his previous expressions of discomfort at the extraordinarily limitations on personal freedoms, these measures will have to remain “as long as they are necessary”.

The concern expressed centres on the extent of the oversight of extraordinary powers given to the Government in its effort to deal with the virus and the existence of sunset clauses in the legislation.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got Government approval to seek the extension of public health measures deemed necessary last year to allow for extraordinary public health measures to combat the pandemic.

Separately to the legislation, Cabinet agreed that Minister for Health would bring a motion before the Oireachtas to extend Mandatory Hotel Quarantine. The extension time for that is still to be determined.

The provisions now being extended were due to end on June 9, but the proposed Bill will provide for an extension of the measures until November 9. However, there is a provision for further three-month extensions after that if necessary.

Mr Donnelly believes that the public interest is best served by having these powers available to the Government to protect life and public health.

“The Minister is very conscious of the extraordinary nature of the provisions in question and the extent to which they have impacted on the normal conduct of life in society over the past year and, in particular, their impact on fundamental and civil rights,” a government statement said.

“He is of the view, however, that the public interest could not be properly served otherwise than by having these powers available to the Government to protect life and public health,” it added.

It is proposed that this legislation will begin its passage through the Oireachtas as soon as possible.

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