Covid-19: Holding gatherings of more than six to be a civil offence

Cabinet decides making large parties criminal offences would be too ‘extreme’ a measure

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Cabinet felt a ‘penal provision’ could be viewed as extreme. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Cabinet felt a ‘penal provision’ could be viewed as extreme. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

 

The Cabinet has stopped short of making it a criminal offence to hold a party of more than six people amid concerns that such a move would be too “extreme”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly brought a memo to Cabinet on Friday which said that under new proposals, organising or attending a gathering in a private home of more than six people would be a crime.

However, Ministers decided to instead underpin the current guidance – which limits indoor numbers to six – with new regulations that holding a gathering of more than six will be a civil offence. Such offences usually carry a penalty of a fine.

There was no clarity on Friday night as to how it would be determined there were more than six people at a gathering.

Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Cabinet felt a “penal provision” could be viewed as extreme.

“I think it was felt that perhaps this would be an extreme measure, particularly around entering somebody’s home. Again, we really want to work with people here and we have seen that people have complied in the vast majority of instances.”

Different advices

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also said such a gathering would represent a civil offence.

“There are a lot of different advices at the moment and guidelines around what people are being asked to do and not do when it comes to Covid. Sometimes it is advice that we ask people to follow, sometimes they are underpinned in criminal law that it is an offence and you can be prosecuted or fined if you breach them, and sometimes it is a civil matter. So in this case it would be a civil matter. So the Minister for Health, for example, could take somebody to court but it wouldn’t be a Garda prosecution.”

Mr Varadkar said that “over 90 per cent” of clusters have occurred in private homes.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet also approved new powers for gardaí to close down pubs and restaurants that are not complying with public health guidelines.

Under proposed new legislation, which must be approved by the Oireachtas, a garda, with the consent of a superintendent, could close down a pub for 24 hours where breaches are discovered.

If there is a second breach, gardaí can apply at the District Court for a seven-day closure and for one of 30 days where there is non-compliance for a third time.

There would be an appeals process, Ms McEntee said.