Covid-19 pandemic powers granted to An Garda Síochána and other State agencies have been controversially extended by the Cabinet until November 9 at least, it has emerged.
At a weekly meeting of ministers, Cabinet members agreed to extend four pieces of legislation that give extensive and extraordinary powers to the State “on the nod”.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got Government approval to seek the extension of public health measures deemed necessary last year to combat the pandemic.
The provisions 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 a further three-month extension after that if necessary.
“The minister [Mr Donnelly] 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," said the Government in a statement.
“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 is proposed that this legislation will begin its passage through the Oireachtas as soon as possible.
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 also been extended until November.
The continuing presence of these measures, despite the country’s reopening, has been the subject of concern within Government parties; however, Government spokespersons insisted the measures have been deemed necessary.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s spokesman said that, despite his previous expressions of discomfort at the extraordinarily draconian limitations on personal freedoms, these measures will have to remain “as long as they are necessary”.