Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Covid-19: Mandatory-quarantine legislation gets the Cabinet nod – finally

Inside Politics: Bill comes with stiff sanctions for those who try to evade quarantine

Beware of what you wish for. On Tuesday morning, we were told the Cabinet would green-light Stephen Donnelly’s mandatory-quarantine legislation and that it would be introduced into the Dáil.

But then it didn’t happen.

Trouble at mill? we asked.

Not at all, was the reply. A couple of minor issues, a bit of tweaking, a crossing of the Ts and dotting of Is, some determined pancake-flipping (it was Shrove Tuesday), and it would all be done.


It required a quick incorporeal Cabinet meeting, but all would be done and dusted before you could say Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Well, the dictionary definition of incorporeal is: ‘Not composed of matter or having no material existence’. The meeting lived up to its word: It was incorporeal on Tuesday afternoon and incorporeal on Tuesday night. Then we were told the meeting would be held first thing Wednesday morning, then 4pm, then 7pm. Just as it looked like it was going to roll over into day three, a late-night ring-around finally saw the quarantine legislation get the nod.

Some heroic rooting by Jack Horgan-Jones revealed the salient details of the legislation that we have documented here.

There was clearly substantive changes needed in the draft Bill to hit two contrasting aims - the first to ensure that civil liberties were not trampled on completely; the second to ensure the legislation had real powers and real teeth.

Depriving someone of liberty for 14 days is a big deal - even if it’s in an en-suite hotel room. The revised draft of the Bill allows some concessions, allowing a person to leave quarantine after ten days if they have a clear PCR test on that day.

There are also provisions that provide for emergency medical scenarios during the quarantine period.

There are no exemptions, but a mechanism has been introduced to allow humanitarian appeals (if a person is coming home to a dying relative, or is recently bereaved, for example). There are protections for unaccompanied minors and for families. The Bill has a sunset clause of three months, unless the Oireachtas votes for an extension.

The stick comes in the shape of stiff sanctions for those who try to evade quarantine, or who put people’s health at risk or who refuse to take a test. It’s not quite the crazy ten-year prison terms introduced in Britain, but fines of up to €4,000 along with prison terms should act as a powerful deterrent.

The Bill was due to be debated in the Dáil this week, but the late approval by Cabinet means it will be next week at least before it gets its first airing.

Dáil deputy and former senator to face charges over Golfgate

Last August was only six months ago, but it feels like another lifetime. Now everything is closed, people are hemmed in to within five kilometres of their homes and tough quarantine laws are to be introduced.

Last August, restrictions had been relaxed down to Level 3. People flocked to the coasts in their thousands and went abroad (with some bringing the virus back), and indoor gatherings were allowed for a maximum of 50 people.

And yet a total of 81 guests attended a golf society dinner in Clifden. People who had sacrificed so much since March were outraged at seeing those who should lead by example not leading by example. A Minister resigned, as did Ireland’s EU commissioner. A famous broadcaster, Seán O’Rourke, also had to apologise abjectly. A new Supreme Court judge ended up in a public squabble with the Chief Justice over the tenability of his position.

And the fallout continued. As we report, four people involved in organising the event will face prosecution over alleged breaches of the Government's guidance. The four include a serving politician, Independent TD Noel Grealish, and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, along with two Galway-based people who were involved in setting up the event.

Best reads

Miriam Lord's column hones in on Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty's success in raising the practice of differentiated pricing in the insurance industry. Everybody is on board and listening closely to what the Donegal TD has to say on it, even a rapt Minister for Finance. There's a sentence in there that's almost a palindrome: Naturally, Richard Boyd-Barrett was outraged. "It's absolutely outrageous," he said, naturally.

Kevin O'Sullivan has all the details on Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan's plans to ban smoky coals, and reduce the use of other solid fuels.

Cormac McQuinn reports on Leo Varadkar's downbeat prognosis on Covid restrictions at the Fine Gael party meeting.

Jennifer Bray reports Roderic O'Gorman is to engage again with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission to see if records can be saved.

Marie O'Halloran reports on claims that meat plants are not ensuring their workers are quarantined.

Jack Horgan-Jones reports from the Fianna Fáil meeting where the Taoiseach said Leaving Certificate classes – as well as junior and senior, infant classes – will resume on March 1st.

Naomi O'Leary on Super Mario Draghi, Italy's latest prime minister.

A compelling read: How the Rwandan Government abducted a hero of the country's bitter civil war and an outspoken critic of the president.


Only the Dáil is in public session today. There is only one piece of legislation being debated, the Land Development Agency Bill.

There are two sessions relating to Covid-19. The first looks at the impact of the pandemic on drugs and alcohol policy, as well as on homelessness. The second looks at the impact it has had on business and enterprise.

Leaders’ Questions are at noon with Leo Varadkar fronting for the Government. The Dáil rises at 6pm – another short day, another short week.