Coronavirus: The Irish Times view on new garda powers to enforce Covid-19 restrictions

The acceptability of these measures will depend on light touch and common sense of gardaí

Gardaí   conduct checks on pedestrians and motorists in Dublin city centre on Wednesday. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Gardaí conduct checks on pedestrians and motorists in Dublin city centre on Wednesday. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

 

The Government hopes that a combination of awareness of the “last resort” coercive powers granted to gardaí for this holiday weekend, the shaming power of social disapproval of those who flout social distancing rules, and more than 50 checkpoints on roads around the country will make unnecessary the actual use of fines or imprisonment to enforce anti-pandemic measures. Success in this regard may also make it unnecessary for the new powers to be extended for a further period beyond Monday.

Behavioural scientist Dr Peter Lunn argues that while social distancing has massive popular support, perhaps one-in-eight people are nevertheless more inclined to prioritise their own convenience over respect for the social good. Although the majority of these are likely to respond to social pressure, he says, a small percentage may have to be constrained by law.

Minister for Health Simon Harris on Tuesday used his regulatory authority under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (2020) to enable gardaí to enforce restrictions on non-essential public movement. Breaching the regulations may result in a fine of up to €2,500 or imprisonment for up to six months.

In a liberal democracy, even in an emergency, hard questions need to be asked of government about the necessity for, proportionality of, and the duration of such measures. Reports that such concerns were raised in Cabinet are reassuring, as is the provision in the legislation of a November sunset clause.

In the end, however, the broad acceptability of such powers will be a function of the light touch and common sense of gardaí in their application. But also of a willingness on the part of the public to accept it is necessary, in the best interests of all, to define “essential” movement in ways that may appear harsh or onerous.

So gardaí might choose not to interfere with separated parents visiting their children but, as Garda Commissioner Drew Harris put in on Wednesday, “delivering Easter eggs is not a critical need”. Any more than visiting one’s holiday home.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.