IRELAND: Any extension of garda powers must undergo human rights vetting process

Article originally published on ICCL website, 10 April 2020 – accessible here

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said any new extension of the extraordinary powers for gardaí should be accompanied by a clear outline of their continued necessity from medical experts, as well as a human rights audit which involves all stakeholders.

Speaking following the announcement of three more weeks of restrictions, and the stated intention of the Minister for Health to extend current regulations and Garda powers, ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

If current Garda powers of enforcement are to be extended, it is essential that the human rights impact of these regulations should be fully assessed, especially for groups disproportionately impacted by these restrictions. If there is any unintended effects from how these powers have been applied so far, we need to learn from that.

Any time our rights are restricted in such an unprecedented fashion must be accompanied by clear reasoning for their necessity and their proportionality to the risk.

ICCL reiterates our support for the government’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and we exhort people to stay in their homes as requested. The medical need for restricting our rights has been made very clear to everyone in Ireland. Our rights to health and to life are at stake.

We call on the government and gardaí to carry out a human rights audit before any new extension of garda powers is announced, either on 12 April or before that. This audit should determine whether all measures meet the necessity and proportionality requirements to restrict fundamental human rights. There is a clear role for the state human rights body, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, here. ICCL would also be very happy to assist in this process.

We further call on government to include particularly impacted groups in this audit. Groups particularly impacted may include those who are being asked to cocoon; people with physical or intellectual disabilities; people who cannot self-isolate or access adequate sanitation; people living in apartments with young children, etc. We commend the government for making special provision for those in abusive relationships this morning.

The Garda Síochána has a key role in how it applies these powers. ICCL is in ongoing contact with the Garda and with the Policing Authority and we are calling on the Garda to ensure that these public health operations are clearly distinguished from ordinary policing activities. These powers of restricting movement and requesting information about movement must not be confused with the normal functions of gardaí. Checkpoints should not have armed gardaí and should not be used for intensified stop-and-search operations.

We welcome the statement of the Taoiseach that these power should be used sparingly, and ICCL reiterates our call for every single use of these powers, or referral to these powers by individual gardaí, be recorded and made available to the Policing Authority.