8 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Michael Fisher

Gardaí were given new powers this week to curtail the movement of people owing to slippage in complying with a requirement that everyone bar essential workers remains within 2km of home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Checkpoints and patrols were stepped up around the main towns in Co. Monaghan.

Two weeks ago, President Higgins signed the Health Preservation, Protection and Other Emergency Measures Act. It imposed restrictions on movement and a prohibition on events and gatherings, and Gardaí now have the power to enforce the law. The regulations signed by Health Minister Simon Harris on Tuesday night specify a person cannot leave his or her home without a reasonable excuse, although the existing exemptions remain. These include legal, medical and family obligations, accessing an essential service and exercise within 2km of home.

Gardaí say they will continue to engage with and encourage people to stay at home and follow the Health Service Executive guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Under the new regulations they will be allowed to stop people from heading to holiday locations over the Easter weekend. There will be checkpoints on the roads and extra patrols at key locations such as parks and beauty spots. The regulations will expire on Easter Sunday.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the priority was to restrict movement until Monday night, and that if people were already in a holiday home, they should remain where they are.

The Commissioner appealed for members of the public to make them aware of any potential breach of Covid-19 restrictions.

He said Gardaí would act with the rest of society in making sure that that advice is followed through. “If people see something that is of concern to them, which they think is something where there is a risk of the illness being spread on, then they should let us know so that we can act, arrive there, deal with the situation and hopefully then resolve it,” Commissioner Harris said.

Commissioner Harris told a news conference the Gardaí have been seeing people leave their homes for non-essential reasons.

He said a small minority of people were breaching the advice, but Gardaí will continue to engage with the community to act together to stem the spread of Covid-19.

He said Gardaí were also seeing cyclists going further than 2km from their homes to exercise and that had to stop. He also said delivering Easter eggs was not an essential journey and people would be asked to return home.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Tuesday he did not expect to be able to recommend a lifting of severe restrictions on economic activity and the movement of people by this weekend. He said a continued level of high compliance with the restrictions was needed.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan TD said he did not expect the new Garda powers to be extended after the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Speaking on “Today with Sean O’Rourke” on RTÉ Radio, the Justice Minister said the new laws comprised restrictions on liberty of a type that had not been seen before.
It comes amid reports from different parts of the country of increasing numbers out in the streets and fears that people may be tempted to disregard social distancing rules over the Easter holiday. The new regulations give Gardaí the power to issue specific fines up to €2500 for breaches and potentially detain people who are refusing to self-isolate.

Mr Flanagan said it was not envisaged the powers would be widely used, but they were there primarily as a deterrent and would only be used as a last resort. Asked if the powers could be extended as soon as the National Public Health emergency team makes its recommendation on extending the lockdown, he said: “There won’t be an automatic rollover (of the laws) but there will be careful consideration given at that point in accordance with the public health advice from Dr Tony Holohan and his team.”

“The (powers are) a response to the emergency situation that we are in. (They are) a reassurance to the vast majority of people in this country that their health and wellbeing is being protected in these difficult times. The vast majority of people in the country have nothing to fear,” Minister Flanagan said. He hoped the high level of public compliance with the request that people stay within 2km of their home would be maintained.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told a Party meeting the public may need to be told when the restrictions introduced to deal with the coronoavirus crisis will be lifted. He made the comments during a conference call with his Senators and MEPs on Wednesday morning, during which the Covid-19 crisis and government formation were discussed.

During a Government update on the pandemic, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan said while the majority of people are “playing their part”, there is a need to “be fair to everyone who is making an effort. If we do not stay the course, all of the sacrifices already made and all of the work you’ve put in so far, and all of the work done by our front-line workers to try and suppress this virus won’t be enough,” Ms Canavan said. She urged the public to abide by travel restrictions this bank holiday weekend. Although social distancing measures had made a difference, she added: “we are not there yet”. Ms Canavan also said the government will move to provide certainty on the Junior and Leaving Cert exams in the coming days and urged students to continue studying.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said it’s unlikely the public health restrictions introduced from midnight on March 27th until April 12th (Easter Sunday) would be lifted after this weekend. “If we take the foot off the pedal, the progress we’ve made would be reversed,” he told Newstalk Breakfast. 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.” The country cannot be “normal” this weekend, he warned. “Life is unusual at the moment. The alternative is so much worse that we cannot save the lives we want,” he added.

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