New Covid law sets out stricter rules for event organisers in Dublin

Civil liberties group cites ‘worrying level of confusion around what is law and advice’

The law applies to events held for ‘social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reasons’ but excludes weddings and sports events. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

The law applies to events held for ‘social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reasons’ but excludes weddings and sports events. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

The laws governing “organising events” in the Republic are now different for Dublin compared to the rest of the Republic.

Under the new regulations, which became law in advance of Dublin moving to Level 3 under the Government’s five-stage plan, “event organisers” in the capital can be prosecuted if they have more than 100 people at their event.

For the other 25 counties, the threshold for the prosecution of an event organiser is set at 200 people.

It represents the first time since the pandemic began that Dublin is treated as a separate entity to the rest of the country under Covid-19 laws.

The measures, contained in the latest statutory instrument published by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, came into effect last Wednesday and are intended to remain in place until at least October 5th.

Since publication, Dublin has moved to Level 3, meaning for the next three weeks no indoor events can take place while outdoor events are capped at 15 people.

While the statutory instrument sets out penalties for event organisers, there are no penalties relating to gatherings in people’s homes.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last month said a new regulation was being formulated providing for a civil process to be taken against those organising parties in their homes but that has not yet come to fruition. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it was strongly opposed to any such more.

“Our firm position is that government should help the public adhere to public health guidance through communication and encouragement, not enforcement,” ICCL director Liam Herrick said.

There needed to be much more clarity and better communication around how public health advice and Government decisions were made, he said, adding there had been “a worrying level of confusion around what is law and what is advice”. This had continued into the last week as the Government launched its new system based on levels of risk, Mr Herrick said.

Some of the new measures that came into effect on Wednesday are penal, meaning they are enforceable under law and can result in convictions and court sanctions; fines of up to €2,500 and/or imprisonment of up to six months.

For example, up to 200 people are now permitted at, non-sporting, “outdoor events” in all counties except Dublin. Anyone organising an event that breaches the 200-person cap is committing a criminal offence and can be prosecuted.

But in Dublin that maximum is set at 100 people, any breach of which means an event organiser is breaking the law and can be prosecuted.

This includes any event held for “social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reasons” but excludes weddings and sports events.

Similarly, outdoor sporting events could be attended in 25 counties by up to 200 people as well as additional personnel required for the running of the event, but that was now limited to 100 in Dublin.

However, unlike the cap on non-sporting events, any breaching of maximum numbers at sports events is not a penal provision.

For people who reside in dwellings in 25 counties in the Republic, they may organise an gathering at home for social or recreational purposes if they “take all reasonable steps” to ensure the numbers in attendance do not exceed six people who reside in no more than three dwellings. Alternative, any number of people can attend once they all reside in no more than one other dwelling.

This measure relating to the 25 counties reflects the Level 2 provisions in the Government’s new system for grading the level of Covid19 pandemic risk in different parts of the country.

A new special provision for Dublin is more stringent and reflects the restrictions contained in Level 3. People residing in Dublin may organise a gathering in their homes only if those in attendance all live in the home where the gathering was taking place or in one other household.

The Government is asking people to follow this advice but there is no direct enforcement, and no sanction for not adhering to the advice.