Emergency measures and civil liberties

 

Sir, – The emergency legislation passed in March of this year granted the Minister for Health extraordinary powers to make regulations that restrict our human rights and civil liberties in order to stem the spread of Covid-19.

The Constitution and human rights law together require the Government to ensure and demonstrate that each restriction on our rights is provided for by law, necessary in a democratic society, and as minimal as possible to achieve the aim of protecting public health.

We are concerned that the Government – on successive occasions – has not adequately demonstrated that due consideration is being given to our rights and that the ordinary democratic process that ensures their protection is not being observed.

We urge the Government to improve the process of making emergency regulations by taking the following three steps.

First, it must undertake wider engagement with relevant stakeholders before regulations are drafted. This would help to ensure that key concerns are taken into account at an early stage.

The second is to publish draft regulations in advance and submit them to the Oireachtas for scrutiny, in line with the ordinary law-making process. This would allow for a public airing of concerns and proper democratic debate. The creation of additional Garda powers and criminal sanctions require a heightened level of Oireachtas scrutiny given the potentially significant and long-term negative impact of the exercise of such powers on individuals.

The third is to publish the final version of regulations before they come into effect, accompanied by clear and effective public messaging. The public must be fully informed in advance of the content of regulations, the date they come into effect, whether a breach will attract criminal sanctions, and the end date for each set of regulations.

We are now entering month nine of the pandemic response. We accept that the Government must respond to a changing public health landscape but we believe that at this stage the process for making regulations could and should be significantly improved.

Covid-19 has done much damage to our health, our social lives, and our economy. Let us not allow it to damage our democracy. – Yours, etc,

MARGUERITE

BOLGER, SC;

KENNETH C

FOGARTY, SC;

PATRICK GAGEBY, SC;

PAUL GREENE, SC;

MARK HARTY, SC;

KATHLEEN LEADER ,SC;

MICHAEL LYNN,SC;

JAMES MacGUILL, SC;

Dr SIMON MILLS, SC;

GIOLLAÍOSA

Ó LIDEADHA, SC;

MATTHIAS

KELLY, QC, SC;

DARA ROBINSON, SC;

MICHAEL STAINES, SC;

PETER WARD, SC;

Prof MICHAEL DOHERTY,

Maynooth University;

Prof SINISA MALESEVIC,

University College Dublin;

Prof RAYMOND MURPHY,

NUI Galway;

Prof DONNCHA

O’CONNELL,

NUI Galway;

EILÍS BARRY,

Chief Executive,

Free Legal Advice Centre;

LIAM HERRICK,

Executive Director,

Irish Council

for Civil Liberties;

CATHERINE ALMOND,

Sheehan and Partners

Solicitors;

DONOUGH DM MOLLOY,

Sheehan and Partners

Solicitors;

DOIREANN ANSBRO, BL;

MARIE FLYNN, BL;

PADRAIC LYONS, BL

DEIRDRE MALONE, BL;

COLM SCOTT-BYRNE, BL;

WILLIAM QUILL, BL;

Dr SHANE DARCY,

NUI Galway;

Dr GRAHAM FINLAY,

University College Dublin;

Dr EDEL HUGHES,

NUI Galway;

Dr JENNIFER KAVANAGH,

Waterford Institiute

of Technology;

Dr MAEVE O’ROURKE, BL,

NUI Galway;

BASHIR OTUKOYA,

University College Dublin;

Dr MARIE-LUCE PARIS,

University College Dublin.