Gardaí are warning that the new on-the-spot fine system for breaches of coronavirus restrictions leaves them effectively “powerless” to prevent house parties.
The new graduated system of penalties was given the green light by Cabinet last night.
The legislation will see people who travel beyond the 5km limit or refuse to wear a face mask in certain settings facing an on-the-spot fine of up to €500.
Meanwhile, people convicted of organising a house party will face fines of up €2,500 or six months in prison.
The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said Gardaí would continue to use the ‘Four Es’: Engage, Educate, Encourage and, as a last resort, Enforce.
“The Gardai will continue policing as they have done throughout the pandemic: by encouraging people to comply with public health regulations,” she said.
“The system of penalties being proposed here may help to change behaviour.
“It is important to stress that the aim needs to be preventing the kind of behaviour which endangers others, rather than aiming to see a large number of fines issued for such behaviour. This shouldn’t become a numbers game: the objective is to get people to behave responsibly, rather than impose punishment.”
However, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has warned that the new system is “concerning” and “unclear.”
AGSI General Secretary, Antoinette Cunningham said the regulations were developed without any consultation on the practicalities of enforcing them.
“It is clear from the Minister’s comments that we will not have the power to enter into a person’s home and on a practical level this means that if a person refuses to answer the door to a member of An Garda Síochána, where a house party is taking place, we remain powerless,” she said.
“Similarly, will the fines apply to peaceful protests of less than 12 people?
“While we appreciate the Government felt they had to do something to address the issue of house parties and protests, we fear that, unless the practical enforcement elements are considered in these matters, the legislation may cause difficulties.
“Once again we face going into lockdown with more questions than answers. Our members will require detailed guidance on how these new proposed laws should be enforced.”
The new bill was approved by Cabinet last night and the Government now aims to enact it “as soon as possible.”
It is expected to go before the Oireachtas this week; however, it will not be in place by the time Level 5 restrictions come into force.