From top: Dublin city centre under lockdown; President of the Garda Representative Association Detective Garda Jim Mulligan on The Tonight Show last night
On Virgin Media One’s The Tonight Show.
President of the Garda Representative Association Detective Garda Jim Mulligan told host Ivan Yates that he didn’t know the specific details of the new powers that emergency legislation has bestowed on gardai during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said that he had discussions with the Department of Justice yesterday about the new regulations but added that he’s still waiting on them.
Detective Mulligan said:
“There needs to be clear and unambiguous understanding of these regulations and there needs to be clarity. The public need to know where they stand, our members need to know where they stand…”
His comments follow the Minister for Health Simon Harris moving the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020 through the Dáil on March 19 without a vote.
In response to submissions from TDs and civil liberties groups, the Government agreed to include a “sunset clause” in the bill. Mr Harris subsequently set the “sunset” date for November 9th, a date he acknowledged was “arbitrary”.
Last night, Det Mulligan told Mr Yates that he read this bill but added:
“We’re hoping they’re [regulations] quite clear and everybody knows where they stand.”
Ultimately though, he said, the gardai will largely be helping the HSE enforce measures in the bill which provide for the forced detention of people who will not self-isolate.
Part 3 of the bill includes powers to restrict the movement of people, including the detention of people whom a medical officer believes is a “potential source of infection”, who cannot be “effectively isolated” or who refuses to remain in their home or in accommodation arranged by the HSE.
The bill defines a person who is a “potential source of infection” as someone who has been in recent contact with a person who is a “probable source of infection of Covid-19” or someone who is suffering from Covid-19, or a person who has attended an event which was attended by another person who is a probable source of infection of Covid-19 or suffering from Covid-19.
The bill provides that a medical officer of health who makes a detention order must ensure that a medical examination of the person who is the subject of the order is carried out as soon as possible and “no later than 14 days” from the time the person has been detained.
It also includes powers to quarantine an area or region where there is thought to be human transmission of Covid-19 and from which there is a “high risk” of contamination emanating by travel from that area.
It also includes powers to close premises, close events, and to arrest people without a warrant in certain circumstances.
Those found to have breached certain restrictions will find themselves subject to fines and/or possible imprisonment of up to three months.
Section 10 of the bill also confers on the Minister “any other measures that the Minister considers necessary in order to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19”.
In other words, it gives the minister powers to introduce any measure he wishes in this section by statutory instrument or regulation that does not have to be approved by the Oireachtas.
When the bill was being debated on March 19th, Independent TD Catherine Connolly, a former barrister and clinical psychologist, said the following in respect of the bill’s sections dealing detention.
“We have a crisis but in times of crisis when we want to put through legislation such as this that is giving seriously broad and excessive powers in my opinion to the Garda Síochána, to the Minister and not just to doctors but to medical officers undefined, then there is a great onus on the Government to place that in context, in particular in the context of our rights under human rights legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights, which we have adopted in our Constitution.
“The absence of protections in the Bill is of great concern to me. I got the amendments to the Bill a half an hour ago and I understand the staff are under pressure.
“Let me pay tribute to the staff of the Dáil but I do not want to waste my time paying more tributes. Take it as given. When we are in a situation where we are looking at amendments and trying to get our heads around the other amendments tabled by my colleagues, it is difficult.
“Then we are looking at legislation we are being asked to pass by 5pm or 6pm today with no sign of protection for human rights.
“That is of great concern to me and if I am prepared to do that, I at least ask the Government to remove the section where an order can be made automatically to renew it.
“The Government should at the very least show good faith and bring this legislation back before us so it gets the approval of the Dáil. If the Government wants us to support it in this extraordinary and “draconian” legislation, then it must show good faith.
“To allow a Minister to renew this on the advice of a medical officer or on some other advice, without bringing it back before us is not showing good faith. It is very important that we show leadership and acknowledge what people are doing on the ground in addition to the staff.
“We must show leadership at this level and bring in legislation that is framed in human rights. It is not that difficult. The Government has to show in this case that the powers are necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. We could have all tabled amendments but they will not be heard.
“The general principle – non-discriminatory, proportionate and necessary – is nowhere to be seen in this Bill.
“In addition, the preamble talks about citizens. The Minister might take the opportunity to tell me why we are only talking about citizens. Is it simply because we are referring to the Constitution and citizens? Surely we are talking about residents and other people in the country.
“Not alone is the word “citizens” used in the preamble but it is used in another section of the Bill. That is of great concern to me. As I said, extraordinary powers are being given to a Minister, medical officers undefined and the Garda Síochána, with powers of arrest without warrant on a reasonable opinion.
“…This inconsistency throughout the Bill is of great concern. We have detention and isolation for a period of 14 days mentioned. It should be more specific that the person should be tested more quickly than that, not after 14 days.
“Of even more concern is that there is a provision for a review but there is no provision to tell the person he or she can take a review and there is no time date on that review. I am not sure why that was done.”