No extra powers needed to enforce Covid-19 restrictions, commissioner told McEntee

Justice Minister says calls for Army to become involved was not going to change situation

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. File photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. File photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said she asked the Garda Commissioner if the force needed more powers to enforce coronavirus restrictions “and he said no.”

Scenes from Galway on Monday night should not have happened she said, referring to a number of gatherings across the city as the new college term got under way.

Ms McEntee had anticipated such gatherings of college students would happen during Rag Week, she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Such behaviour was not acceptable and should not have happened. “We need to expect more from our young people,” she said.

The Minister said that calls for the Army to become involved were not going to change the situation as the Army did not have powers to enforce restrictions and “it could frighten people” she said.

The Garda approach was to engage and encourage people to comply with the guidelines, she said. The gardaí had examined what measures were taken in other jurisdictions and had not found their efforts to be any more effective.

However, Ms McEntee warned that if such incidents were to happen again “we would be having a very different conversation”. The message that such behaviour was unacceptable had been delivered “loud and clear” and if necessary the gardaí would have more engagement with the university authorities.

Meanwhile, the director general of the HSE Paul Reid has expressed concern about attempts to categorise younger and older people with regard to Covid-19.

“I don’t think that works for Ireland. Proposals for a separate approach for older and younger people won’t work,” he told Newstalk Breakfast on Wednesday.

Mr Reid said he understood that people were looking for “a major new approach. We can still live our lives, just in a different way.”

There was a need “to call out” behaviour such as that seen in Galway on Monday night, he added, pointing out that young people were also contracting the virus with 26 per cent of the cases in the past week in the 15-24 age group.

Those people were then going home and transmitting the virus to their parents and grandparents with 75 per cent of outbreaks in the home, he said.

But it was not just about young people, it was about all societal engagements and how they were organised. The pandemic was a situation of which people had no experience, he added.

Ireland was doing “relatively” well in comparison with other European countries, Mr Reid said, but he said he was concerned about the level of hospitalisations which made it even more important to call out bad behaviour.

It was necessary to galvanise young people. “It’s about keeping people with us. Young people have made huge sacrifices. When they connect with a big issue, they are our greatest ambassadors.”

Mr Reid repeated the warning that “this will be a winter we’ve never experienced before” and the aim of the health service would be to protect the public from flu and Covid-19. “Our priority is to keep people out of hospital.”

Assisted Dying Bill

Separately, on the issue of the Assisted Dying Bill, Ms McEntee told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show that her proposal of a special Oireachtas committee to explore the issue in great detail was to ensure the protection of the vulnerable.

This was a very complex and challenging issue, she said. There were different views - morally, ethically, legally and medically. The legal advice from the Attorney General was that the Bill could be challenged and safeguards were needed.

Ms McEntee declined to offer a personal view on the issue saying that she did not want to prejudice the issue. “It is such a complex area, we have to cover all the grounds on this.”