Policing Covid-19: What enforcement powers do gardaí have?

Many measures under Living with Covid-19 plan rely on public goodwill, not enforcement

Gardaí are scaling up their presence in Dublin as it moves to Level 3. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Gardaí are scaling up their presence in Dublin as it moves to Level 3. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins


A wide range of enforcement measures are open to the Garda as Dublin now moves to Level 3 restrictions under the Government’s Living with Covid-19 plan while the remainder of the country stays on Level 2.

While enforcement in this regard mostly applies to event organisers and businesses, some of it relates to ordinary citizens, who can face criminal prosecution – with fines and terms of imprisonment as possible sanctions on conviction – for certain breaches.

However, there is ambiguity in relation to certain measures imposed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and a number of the Living with Covid-19 regulations have the status of “advice” and depend largely on public goodwill for adherence.

On Saturday, the Garda said it was scaling up its presence throughout Dublin to ensure compliance with public health measures.

Operation Fanacht will see a high level of visibility of gardaí on foot, in cars and on bikes to promote social distancing and break up any large gatherings in public spaces. Garda checkpoints will also be established throughout the county.

A Garda spokesman said the force would continue to adopt “a graduated policing response based on its tradition of policing by consent”.

Visitors to homes

The number of visitors allowed to a person’s home and the number of households those visitors can come from varies from level to level in the Government’s five-level Living with Covid-19 plan.

In Dublin, under Level 3, a maximum of six people from only one household are allowed to visit another home. The Government is asking people to follow this advice but there is no direct enforcement of it, and no sanction for not adhering to the advice.


The numbers permitted at gatherings, including social gatherings, or parties, at a person’s home or at other locations, vary from level to level and depending on the nature of the gathering.

There are no enforcement measures for gatherings at a person’s home, though civil-based enforcement, with a financial penalty but no criminal conviction, was being considered by Government.

Anyone organising a gathering away from a home setting that breaches the maximum numbers allowed at such gatherings is subject to enforcement and could be fined up to €2,500 or jailed for up to six months on conviction. It is not an offence to attend such a gathering, but it is an offence to host or organise one.


The number of guests allowed at a wedding ranges from 100, excluding staff and other essential personnel, at Level 1 to six people at Level 4 or Level 5.

There is no enforcement of these provisions, meaning they are advisory only, with people being asked to adhere to them. However, Garda sources said that depending on the scale of a wedding, or if the same people continually facilitated or organised weddings that breached the advice, it was possible a manager or owner of a hotel or other form of venue could be prosecuted for “organising an event”. The same sources said, however, this has not yet been tested.

Indoor events

At Level 1 up to 100 people can attend an indoor event, although this reduces at other levels, with no indoor events permitted at Levels 3, 4 or 5. The numbers permitted at indoor events also change depending on the type of event, where it is being held and how large the venue is, with a large number of permutations possible.

These measures for indoor events, where they are still permitted, are enforceable and any “event” organisers breaching the limits can be prosecuted and face fines of up to €2,500 and jail for up to six months.

Sports fixtures

The number of people allowed at sports events varies depending on venue size and whether the event is being held indoors or outdoors, and also varies between the different levels of the Living with Covid-19 plan.

The restrictions on sports events are advisory only, with no enforcement. People are being asked to adhere to the restrictions on numbers at sports events, but breaching these restrictions is not an offence and there is no sanction.

Bars, restaurants, cafes

For bars and restaurants selling alcohol, a range of restrictions and conditions are in place and most of these are enforceable. Only pubs selling food can open currently and they must sell customers a meal valued at at least €9. Next Monday so-called wet pubs will be allowed to reopen in all counties apart from Dublin.

Bars and restaurants selling alcohol are also required to keep customer contact details, in the event contact tracing is needed, and also face a ban on “drinking up” time as well as earlier-than-normal closing hours.

Gardaí are inspecting these venues and any breach of the conditions can result in a business being closed immediately for the remainder of that day. Other closure orders can be applied for by gardaí for venues that do not desist from breaching the rules, and these can range from for three days to 30 days.

In the longer term, gardaí could also object to the renewal of a liquor licence for such premises.

Businesses such as cafes could also face periods of closure if in breach of coronavirus regulations, such as by failing to keep the contact details of their customers for a period of 28 days.

Domestic travel

Even before Dublin was moved to Level 3 people living in the county were being asked not to travel out of the region unless they had to do so for work, education and childcare. That advice stays the same now that the move to Level 3 is confirmed.

People living outside Dublin are being asked not to travel into the county unless they need to do so for essential reasons. However, these measures are advisory rather than enforceable under law.

Retail and services

People visiting retail outlets where goods are sold, other businesses and some other such venues are required, by law, to wear a face covering unless they are under 13 years or suffer from a physical or mental health issue that means they are unable to wear a face covering. This is a penal provision and is enforceable by law, to the point of being charged with a criminal offence and convicted.

The businesses in question include shopping centres, libraries, cinemas and cinema complexes, theatres, concert halls, bingo halls, museums and any place where goods are sold to customers. Under the Level 3 restrictions in Dublin many of these places will close.

Masks must also be worn by customers of service businesses, including those offering cosmetic nail care or nail styling, hair care or hair styling, or tattoo and piercing services, as well as travel agents and tour operators, laundries and dry cleaners.

Public transport

Face coverings now must be worn on public transport unless the passenger is under 13 years or has a physical or mental health reason that means they are unable to wear a mask. If a person is not wearing a mask, they can be asked to alight the bus, train or tram they are on. If they refuse to do so, gardaí can be called and a criminal process can commence that can result in a criminal conviction.

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