There are concerns the new coronavirus on-the-spot fine system is unworkable and could damage the relationship between Gardaí and their communities.
Cabinet agreed to introduce the new system last night and it is expected to go before the Oireachtas this week.
While the legislation has yet to be published, it is expected to 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 who organise an indoor gathering or house party could face an on-the-spot fine of up to €1,000.
Repeat offenders could face heavier fines and imprisonment on conviction.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Director General Liam Herrick warned that the system could damage the relationship between Gardaí and the community.
He noted that the new laws may be unenforceable and damaging to the relationship between Gardaí and the public.
“If we are getting down into criminalising people’s behaviour around so-called house parties, we still face some of the same Constitutional and other problems we have had up to now and an unworkable law can cause damage,” he said.
“The reports coming out suggest it is going to be an offence for someone to be suspected of being on their way to a house party. Now what is the threshold for reasonable suspicion in that instance?
“How does a Garda suspect somebody is on their way to a house party? Is that law going to be applied evenly and consistently across the country? Is it open to discriminatory treatment? Is the young person who is carrying a six-pack of beer more likely to be under reasonable suspicion than the middle-aged, middle-class person carrying a bag full of bottles of wine?
“These are the kinds of practical policing problems that we have gone to great lengths to avoid up to now and I think we are opening ourselves up to unnecessarily.”
He said the approach up to now has recognised the pandemic as a health crisis and noted that many of the over 20 different regulations that have been introduced since May already carry penalties.
“Not only are the Gardaí engaging with people and telling them what to do, they also have the power to prosecute people if they are resistant and they are really defiant and refusing to comply,” he said.
“That overall approach has really been centred on this idea that this is a public health crisis, it is not a crime phenomenon.
“The Gardaí do have a role to play but we need to be very cautious that we don’t get the Gardaí involved in the people’s private lives and that we don’t jeopardise the longer-term relationship between the community and the police.
“That approach has generally been a sound one. Of course, if there are new problems emerging we may need to tweak the regulations or maybe there are new problems we need to punish in a different way but, for no obvious reason, that is now being dispensed with in favour of a system of fines which they had in the UK and has been a complete failure in the UK.”
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has warned that the new system is “concerning” and “unclear.”
It warned that Gardai remain effectively “powerless” to prevent house parties and leave more questions than answers in terms of the practicality of enforcement.