4 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), in advance of an expected government announcement on moving into phase two of reopening the country, has said that emergency garda powers are now inappropriate, unworkable, and must be ended. The call comes as the Government must decide if it is necessary to extend the Regulations providing for additional garda powers and the criminalisation of movement beyond 8 June.
The organisation emphasised its continued strong support for the public health advice and government efforts to curb the spread of COVID19 but insisted that public health advice should not be enforced by criminal law, rather by consent and cooperation.
ICCL’s Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“It is a fundamental democratic principle that any restrictions on human rights must be lawful, and must be shown to be necessary and proportionate. At this point in the public health response, we believe that there is no evidence that criminalisation and prosecution in relation to public health advice is justified or likely to be effective.
We should continue to follow public health advice, but the advice about travel and work is now becoming more and more complicated to the point where it is not possible to enforce the law in a consistent way. This is the moment when public health advice should be separated from criminal law.”
ICCL is particularly concerned about the possible prosecution under the current regulations of the organisers of a Black Lives Matter protest in Dublin last Monday and hopes that the Gardaí and the DPP will take a decision in this matter which does not jeopardise rights.
Reports that there may be further regulations making a 14-day isolation period for travellers entering the island of Ireland mandatory are also of serious concern. Similar proposals were rejected by Cabinet last week. ICCL does not not believe any case has been made for the necessity of such far-reaching interference with individual rights.
ICCL has previously called for a return to policing by consent which was effective in the first weeks of the pandemic. The World Health Organisation is also clear that fostering a sense of cooperation and trust yields better results than a more authoritarian approach.
As the regulations continue to be amended, it will be less clear to people what is and isn’t allowed. We cannot continue to threaten to criminalise people for breaking laws that are changing rapidly and not properly publicised. Not knowing the rules during a deeply uncertain time should not be a crime.
ICCL’s Senior Research and Policy Officer Doireann Ansbro said:
“Protecting rights becomes even more important at a time of national emergency. The Irish people have shown an incredible level of cooperation and solidarity over the past 10 weeks. Compliance with public health advice has been based on trust – and now is the time for the Government to trust the people, without the threat of criminalisation and prosecution. We should end regulations with police powers and concentrate our efforts on public health advice and guidance.”
Notes for editors:
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s oldest independent human rights monitoring organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign for all human rights for everyone.
See previous calls for public health and criminal law to be separated:
For media enquiries: Sinéad Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org, 087 4157162