Q&A: How will the new Garda powers for pubs and restaurants work?

Mooted laws to prohibit house parties watered down but retail premises can be closed down

Gardaí say there has been overwhelming compliance with public health measures found during recent inspections of pubs and restaurants

Gardaí say there has been overwhelming compliance with public health measures found during recent inspections of pubs and restaurants

 

After a day of confusion, not for the first time in the Government’s efforts to combat Covid-19, it has been decided a get-tough attitude should be taken to pub and restaurant owners who do not comply with the public health measures in place. However, mooted new laws to prohibit house parties have been very much watered down.

What are the new rules?

When pubs serving food and restaurants reopened at the start of June it was decided gardaí would inspect pubs and restaurants serving alcohol to ensure they were adhering to the public health measures, especially the requirement to only serve drinks to customers having a meal. Since then gardaí have carried out thousands of inspections, and while they have detected 165 breaches they had no powers to act. The new legislation agreed by Government will give gardaí those enforcement powers.

What are those powers?

Firstly, a Garda superintendent can sanction the immediate closure of a premises serving alcohol for the remainder of a day. Secondly, gardaí can apply to the District Court for a three-day “emergency closure order” if more than one breach is discovered. Thirdly, gardai can apply for a “temporary closure order” in cases where businesses fail to act on a notice to comply with regulations and where such breaches are likely to continue. A first temporary closure order could close a business for up to seven days, while second or subsequent orders could extend to 30 days. The new Bill also includes specific grounds on which gardaí can object to a liquor licence.

What about house parties?

While it was mooted house parties would be included in the new Bill, this was seen as fraught with legal difficulties because it would give gardaí the power to enter a private home on suspicion a gathering is taking place. This was seen as an erosion of civil liberties and probably at odds with a section of the Constitution that declares a person’s home is “inviolable”. That means when gardaí want to raid or even enter a person’s home they require a warrant.

So parties can continue?

Not quite. First of all, the public health advice is that people should limit gatherings in their homes to not more than six people. A new regulation is being formulated which would result in a civil process taken by the Minister for Health against those organising parties. Gardaí would have no role and holding a party would not be a criminal matter.

What’s been the reaction?

Garda sources said their hand was now strengthened and that publicans and restaurants could be in no doubt what their responsibilities were. However, they pointed out there has been overwhelming compliance found during recent inspections, so they expect these new powers will be used only occasionally. Gardaí were also reluctant to begin raiding suspected house parties. There was relief in the force that that idea came to nothing.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has welcomed the fact the new laws do not extend to gatherings or parties in private dwellings. It believed reaching into the home was a step too far, and that clearer public health messaging was required instead.