Coronavirus: Gardaí can ask but cannot yet compel people to return home

Regulations giving effect to the emergency powers have yet to be finalised, senior Government sources confirm

The gardaí do not yet have powers to enforce the Covid-19 shutdown because regulations giving effect to the emergency powers have yet to be finalised.

This means that while gardaí can ask people to return to their homes, they have as yet no powers under the new laws to compel them to return, senior Government sources have confirmed.

The regulations are currently being drafted and are expected to be completed in the coming days, Government Buildings said, though some sources have indicated that the new laws were proving difficult to translate into practical powers for the gardaí on the street.

Gardai are policing the shutdown without resorting to ordering people home, officials say. However, senior figures have acknowledged that if people refuse to follow garda instructions - for example, to return home - they cannot be compelled to do so under the emergency legislation.


“The gardaí already have extensive powers of enforcement and the focus of their activity is on encouraging people to adhere to the public health measures in place to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

“As the Garda Commissioner has said, their approach is to ‘inform, engage and encourage’. This is proving very effective and the vast majority of the public are being responsible,” a Government spokeswoman said.

“Legislation providing further powers - should they be needed - has been passed by the Oireachtas. The associated regulations are being finalised.”

A Garda spokesman said that the force “continues to encounter widespread public compliance from the public with regard to the current public health measures.

“An Garda Síochána continues in a phase of engaging, educating and encouraging the public. Regulatory powers remain a matter for the Department of Health.”

The Irish Times understands that the regulations are being prepared in the Attorney General’s office.

But the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has said it is “unacceptable” that the Government has yet to sign regulations granting gardaí new powers to restrict movement during the coronavirus crisis.

AGSI General Secretary Antoinette Cunningham said frontline gardaí need clear instruction on how and when to implement the restrictions. AGSI members met with government officials on Thursday but were given no timeline on when the regulations would be introduced.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times