Emergency measures and civil liberties
Sir, – One is understandably slow to take issue with a chorus of senior counsel and professors who write of their concern that the emergency legislation passed last March granted extraordinary powers to the Minister for Health to restrict our human rights and civil liberties in order to stem the spread of Covid-19 (Letters, November 21st).
Your correspondents urge three steps. The Government should undertake wider engagement with “relevant stakeholders” before regulations are drafted. Draft regulations should be published in advance and submitted to the Oireachtas for scrutiny, including a “heightened level” of Oireachtas scrutiny where additional Garda powers and criminal sanctions are contemplated. The final version of regulations should be published before they come into effect so that the public is fully informed in advance of their content.
This is hardly a recipe for the urgent action one might expect in response to a national health emergency. On the contrary, it is a template for the process one might suggest if one wanted to ensure either that nothing happens or that whatever does emerge is too late to be of any practical use.
Almost every act of government even in normal times involves some curtailment of personal liberties. I for one am prepared to accept some additional level of restriction where the case is made that it is for the greater good in responding to Covid-19.
In his second inaugural presidential address in 1833, Andrew Jackson, quoting one of his predecessors, George Washington, said: “We must constantly bear in mind that, in entering into society, individuals must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest”.
Living in a society involves compromise. As citizens we have rights but we also have obligations. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Our learned friends have divined that the Government is abusing the powers it was given in the emergency legislation passed in March of this year to protect our public health in the midst of a pandemic.
They have opined that the Government has not consulted widely enough, has not published proposed changes far enough in advance, and not given the public enough notice of when they will come into effect.
While it may be normal for complex legal cases to drag on for many months and even years, with copious adjournments and refresher fees, the Government does not have that luxury in the midst of a pandemic.
These emergency regulations are for extraordinary times in which the rate of infection can increase exponentially during the periods of engagement with stakeholders, scrutiny by legislators, and public debate which the lawyers advise.
If anything, the Government can be faulted for not having acted quickly and decisively enough. The last thing we need is for the lawyers to try to get in on the act, poring over the fine print while people suffer. – Yours, etc,