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Covid-19 fines system expected to come into force this week

Fines will range from about €60 to €2,500 for breaches

Under the new system, those who refuse to wear a mask or who engage in non-essential travel will face initial fines of between €60 and €100. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A system of fines for breaches of coronavirus regulations is expected to come into force this week, two weeks into the Level 5 lockdown.

Those who host or travel to house parties, refuse to wear a mask where it is obligatory or travel beyond 5km for non-essential reasons will face fines ranging from about €60 up to €2,500.

The Department of Health declined to say when the statutory instrument enacting the fines will be published and signed, saying only it is an “urgent priority” for Government.

However, it is understood officials are preparing to introduce the system towards the end of this week.

House party

The details of the fines system are being drafted by the Departments of Health and Justice and will be signed into law by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

Under the new system, those who refuse to wear a mask on public transport or in retail settings, or who engage in non-essential travel, will face initial fines of between €60 and €100 with higher fines for repeat offences, up to a maximum of €500.

Those caught hosting a house party or travelling to a house party will face fines of €1,000 for a first offence and up to €2,500 and six months in prison for repeat offences. The owner of the house will be presumed to be the host unless they can prove otherwise.

Under the legislation, gardaí will not be permitted to enter households to shut down house parties.

Those who fail to pay fines may end up before the courts where sanctions include increased financial penalties, community service and, as a last resort, prison.

The maximum fines were laid down in legislation last month when the country entered Level 5 but the exact gradients for specific offences have yet to be determined.

Garda sources around the country have said they have not yet felt a pressing need for the introduction of the fines system and that compliance with the Level 5 restrictions remains very high for the most part.

Some gardaí have also expressed confusion about how aspects of the system will work.

Powerless

Antoinette Cunningham, secretary general or the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) last month questioned how the proposals will help gardaí put a stop to house parties if they are not permitted to enter premises.

“It is clear from the Minister’s comments that we will not have the power to enter into a person’s home and on a practical level this means that if a person refuses to answer the door to a member of An Garda Síochána, where a house party is taking place, we remain powerless.”

The AGSI said it was concerned the regulations were developed without any consultation with “key stakeholders”.

Garda Headquarters has said the fines system would be implemented in line with its general approach to policing coronavirus restrictions and that people would only be fined as a last resort.

The fines system is expected to be similar to that introduced in Northern Ireland. According to the PSNI, officers in Northern Ireland have handed out 1,775 fines, starting at £60, since March.

Another 50 “top tariff fines” of £1,000 have been handed out to people who have failed to self-isolate.