Covid-19: Gardaí lose enforcement powers over movement restrictions

Latest provisions do not contain a penal penalty for breaching movement restrictions

Gardaí no longer have the power to enforce the movement restrictions laid out in the emergency coronavirus legislation introduced by the Government.

As of yesterday, people can travel anywhere within their own county or for up to 20km outside it, up from a previous radius of 5km.

However, unlike previous versions of the regulations, the latest provisions do not mention a criminal penalty for breaching the movement restrictions.

This means gardaí can no longer arrest or prosecute anyone moving outside the radius. The move to revoke one of the most draconian Garda powers in living memory was made on Sunday with no announcement or publicity.


A Garda spokesman said the force will continue to “encourage and educate” people found travelling outside the radius but confirmed it no longer has powers of arrest.

The Garda still has the power to enforce other regulations introduced under the emergency legislation last March, including prohibitions on large events and the opening of certain businesses. Those organising events of more than 15 people, including protests, could also still face criminal sanction.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the Government believed it would not be "proportionate" to retain criminal sanctions for breaching the movement restrictions.

“The Government has been advised by the Attorney General that this is a proportionate and appropriate measure at this stage of the pandemic. This is important for the law to be valid and human-rights compliant,” she said.

Essential travel

Until this week, those found more than 5km from their home while not engaged in essential travel faced penalties of up to six months in prison and a €2,500 fine. However, gardaí were instructed to only take enforcement action against people refusing directions to turn back home.

As of last Tuesday, gardaí had used their enforcement powers 289 times. However, the rate of arrests has been dropping for several weeks, even as more people took to the roads. During the June bank holiday weekend, only six enforcement actions were taken.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which has been calling for the revocation of the Garda powers for weeks, welcomed the return of “policing by consent”.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times