A civil rights group is warning that the new system of coronavirus fines will undermine the community response to the outbreak and make little difference to people’s behaviour.
The Government yesterday published details of a series of new fixed penalty notices for breaches of public health guidelines.
Anyone found to be organising an event indoors or outdoors, including house parties, now faces a €500 fine.
Meanwhile, anyone attending one of those parties or events faces a €150 fine.
There are also €80 fines for anyone found without a facemask on public transport or in shops.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) said there is “no real purpose” with changes to public health guidelines due next week.
“This whole approach really goes against the community policing approach we have had to enforcement of COVID since last April and would seem to open a lot of potential difficulties that really are unnecessary at this time,” he said.
He said the fines could only be justified if the Government could bring forward any evidence that they are likely to have any positive effect.
“What we know is that fines are a particularly ineffective tool to influence behaviour,” he said.
“People who have enough money don’t care and people who are resistant and don’t want to comply generally don’t pay fines anyway.
“That is our experience in other areas of law and it is particularly the case with regard to public health.
“We have international research that shows that fines are a particularly ineffective way to do this.”
He said the fine system leaves no discretion for the Gardaí or the DPP – whereas up to now, “prosecutions could only go ahead as a last resort in consultation with the DPP.”
“This now allows these to be applied on the spot, which creates a difficulty that they could be applied unevenly in different sections of the population,” he said.
“All of the evidence at his stage shows that what is needed is clear simple messages to people.”
He noted that this is the first time it has been made a criminal offence to attend a house party – something that Gardai, the Government and the Department of Justice all agreed was “particularly dangerous” just a few months ago.