Gardaí will be given new powers to fine people who hold house parties or breach travel restrictions under new measures agreed by the Cabinet on Tuesday.
People who throw house parties can be fined €1,000 and jailed for up to a month under fresh proposals also agreed by the Cabinet tonight at its second meeting of the day.
On-the-spot fines for breaching Government's Covid-19 restrictions will be up to €500 according to planned legislation which will go to the Oireachtas for approval.
Ministers held an incorporeal meeting to discuss new enforcement legislation which will apply for the six-week Level 5 lockdown.
One source said that gardaí will be empowered to attend a house where there is a house party and ask the owner to stop the event. If they do not do so, they can be fined €1,000 on their first offence or jailed for a month, or both.
This will rise to €1,500 on the second offence or a jail sentence of three months, or both. On the third offence, this rises to €2,500 or six months in prison, or both.
Fines of €60 are being considered for people who breach the 5km restrictions due to come into force on Thursday.
A similar amount is also being considered for those who refuse to wear face masks in public areas such as shops and public transport.
During the first lockdown back in March people could be prosecuted in the District Court and punished with up to six months in prison and a €2,500 fine for breaching the movement restrictions which ranged between 2km and 20km at various stages.
Under the new system, those breaking the limit may be issued with a fixed charge penalty notice, similar to a speeding ticket. Anyone found undertaking a non-essential journey over 5km from their home could face the penalty.
Failure to pay the charge would result in escalating fines and eventually a court appearance and possible criminal conviction.
People who do not wear a mask while on public transport or in retail settings will also face fines under the new legislation.
Under the new plans, gardaí can also call to a door and break up a house party but they may not enter the home. Instead they will ask the owner to break up the party and if they refuse to do so they will be fined under a fixed charge notice.
Furthermore if a person is seen loitering in the area and gardaí suspect they are going to a house party, the officers can ask the person to leave the area. If the person refuses they will be fined.
The legislation to give effect to the measures is expected to be published on Wednesday and the Government is hoping to pass all stages of the legislative process within a period of days.
The new enforcement measures come as the country heads into Level 5 of the Government’s Living with Covid-19 plan and a six-week lockdown.
Gardaí will be responsible for issuing the fines. They are expected to be ordered to take a graduated approach, similar to that taken during the previous lockdown. Those found in breach of the 5km restrictions or refusing to wear a mask will be encouraged to comply before any enforcement action is taken.
The Cabinet also agreed that the number of attendees at a funeral will be increased to 25 under Level 5 restrictions. It was previously agreed on Monday that the limit would be 10, but at a meeting of Cabinet on Tuesday it was agreed to increase the number in line with the numbers allowed at weddings.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said on Tuesday that there was a small number of people who do not comply with public health guidelines.
“I think the vast majority of the Irish public have been really compliant, but it does annoy them greatly when they see a small minority of people flagrantly breaching the guidelines and the rules. I think the vast majority of people want to see that there is a consequence for that, and they want to see that there is enforcement, because the reckless behaviour of a minority can mean extended restrictions for everyone.”
“The State is quite rightly providing an enormous amount of public resources to help us through this period, it can’t be sustained indefinitely so we need the support and buy-in of the public to bring us all to the point where these restrictions are no longer needed,” Mr McGrath added.
Thirteen further deaths and 1,269 new cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the Republic, with the North reporting three deaths and 913 new cases.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on Tuesday that if the country was down to fewer than 100 cases a day by December 1st then “we will have achieved what we set out to do”.
Following days of warnings from senior public health officials about the continuing spread of Covid-19, the Government on Monday night reversed its previous stance and announced the introduction of Level 5 restrictions for the entire State until December 1st.
Under the Level 5 plan, schools and childcare facilities will remain open, as will construction sites and manufacturing, but non-essential retail businesses and services such as hairdressing will be forced to close, plunging tens of thousands of people into unemployment and costing the exchequer hundreds of millions of euro in lost taxes and in welfare payments.
The decision was announced after a Cabinet meeting arranged at short notice yesterday gave its approval for the move, although not without some dissent from Ministers. The measures come into place on Wednesday night at midnight, into Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, one of the main garda representative bodies has expressed concern about the proposed fines system for Covid-19 breaches which it described as “unclear”.
Antoinette Cunningham, secretary general or the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) questioned how the proposals will help gardaí put a stop to house parties if they are not permitted to enter premises.
“It is clear from the Minister’s comments that we will not have the power to enter into a person’s home and on a practical level this means that if a person refuses to answer the door to a member of An Garda Síochána, where a house party is taking place, we remain powerless.”
AGSI said it is concerned the regulations were developed without any consultation with “key stakeholders.”
“While we appreciate the Government felt they had to do something to address the issue of house parties and protests, we fear that unless the practical enforcement elements are considered in these matters the legislation may cause difficulties,” Ms Cunningham said.
“Once again we face going into lockdown with more questions than answers. Our members will require detailed guidance on how these new proposed laws should be enforced.”