Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD today welcomed the decision by Government to approve publication of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers)(COVID-19) Bill 2020.
The main purpose of the Bill is to provide An Garda Síochána with additional enforcement powers in relation to bars and restaurants selling alcohol, which are not compliant with the COVID-19 health regulations.
Minister McEntee said:
“Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, An Garda Síochána has taken extensive action in support of public health restrictions. Gardaí have adopted a graduated policing response to the pandemic – engaging, educating, encouraging and only as a last resort enforcing relevant emergency regulations. This approach has been effective and is fully in keeping with the tradition of policing by consent.”
Addressing the question of licensed premises specifically, Minister McEntee said:
“Garda checks since the beginning of July have found the vast majority of licenced premises to be in compliance with both health regulations and licensing laws. But the unfortunate reality is that some licensed premises are flouting the law, risking the health of their customers and the wider public.”
Minister McEntee continued:
“In bringing forward this new legislation, I want to ensure that Gardaí have the powers they need to act swiftly to deal with breach of these COVID-19 related regulations, where required.”
The Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers)(Covid-19) Bill 2020 will provide for three types of closure orders that may be issued to a bar or restaurant, in circumstances where it fails to comply with a direction from An Garda Síochána under section 31 of the Health Act 1947. It also provides for a number of criminal offences in relation to breaches. The Bill will additionally establish new grounds for objection to renewal of licences, in circumstances where it has been necessary to close a licenced premises or where a person has been convicted for being in breach of the relevant provisions.
The Bill will complement additional regulations being drafted by the Department of Health, which will place obligations on licensed premises in relation to the service of food and drink.
Minister McEntee concluded by saying:
“I appreciate that these are extraordinary powers, but we are facing an urgent public health need. These powers will be temporary and include a number of safeguards, including provision for appeal in respect of closure orders. In keeping with the graduated policing response adopted to date, I don’t expect that these powers will be used frequently. But I strongly believe that this new law will encourage better compliance with COVID-19 regulations by publicans and restaurateurs, in the interests of all of our society.”
As part of ‘Operation Navigation’, An Garda Síochána have since 3 July been checking licensed premises for adherence to the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No.3) Regulations 2020.
An Garda Síochána have reported that the majority of premises have been are compliant with the regulations but that between Friday 3 July and Sunday 23 August, 165 potential breaches were recorded, including a number of licenced premises at which multiple potential breaches were identified.
The Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers)(Covid-19) Bill 2020 is intended to provide for certain further powers required by An Garda Síochána in dealing with breaches of COVID-19 regulations by premises allowed to serve alcohol, having regard to the manifest and grave risk to human life and public health posed by the spread of COVID-19.
The Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers)(Covid-19) Bill 2020 will complement COVID-19 regulations being drafted by the Department of Health, which will place obligations on licensed premises in relation to the service of food and drink to customers.
The Bill will provide for three types of closure orders that may be issued to a bar or restaurant, in circumstances where it fails to comply with a direction from An Garda Síochána under section 31(A) of the Health Act 1947.
It will provide for:
- A power for a Garda Superintendent or higher to issue an immediate closure order to close a premises immediately for the remainder of that day
- A power for An Garda Síochána to apply to the District Court on an ex-parte basis for an emergency closure order where there has been more than one breach of the regulations. That closure can be for up to three days
- A power for An Garda Síochána to apply for a temporary closure order, where there has been a failure to comply with a compliance notice and the Garda is of the opinion that such failure to comply is continuing or likely to recur. A first temporary closure order can be for up to seven days and a second or subsequent temporary closure order can be for up to 30 days
- The Bill will also includes grounds for objection to renewal of licences.
The Bill will includes safeguards including a right to appeal as well as an explicit sunset clause. The draft provides that, if enacted, it would continue in operation only until 9 November 2020, unless a resolution is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas approving its continuation.
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