Justice Minister warns of penal offences for breaking guidelines during Level 4 and 5

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Vivienne Clarke

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has warned that if the country moves to Level 4 or Level 5, she wants it to be a penal offence not to adhere to the guidelines about restrictions, such as not traveling outside one’s own county.

At present gardaí can only urge the public to adhere to the guidelines and do not have the power to enforce restrictions, the Minister told RTÉ radio’s News at One.

There will be more gardaí at checkpoints around the country in a bid to engage, educate, encourage and enforce the restrictions, she added. The gardaí do not need extra powers to enforce the regulations in relation to events indoors as it was already an offence to host such an event, she said.

With regard to marches and public demonstrations, the gardaí were trying their best, but there was a right to public assembly. The Minister said that the Government was looking at what measures worked in other jurisdictions and they were looking at the possibility of on the spot fines.

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However, that raised the issue of what measures would have to be implemented if people refused to pay the fines. “We are continuing to look at this.”

When asked about the Tánaiste’s comments on NPHET and the Chief Medical Officer on Monday night , Ms McEntee said that the Government had full confidence in the CMO and NPHET. The Tánaiste’s comments had been as a result of frustration.

What had happened on Sunday (the leaking of the NPHET recommendation to move to Level 5) had been very public which was unfortunate and it was understandable that Mr Varadkar had been frustrated about how that had happened, she said.

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