IRELAND: Emergency powers should only be exercised to protect public health

Article originally published on ICCL, 24 March 2020 – accessible here

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said that new restrictions on non-essential services and outside gatherings announced today by government clearly impact our rights but human rights law allows for such restrictions when proportionate to the need to protect life and health.

Executive Director of ICCL, Liam Herrick, said:

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, measures that curb our rights to this extent were almost unimaginable. But we agree with government that these measures are necessary to protect our rights to life and health. We would urge people to take these measures seriously to combat the spread of the virus and to avoid the situation where the government feels the need to apply even more stringent restrictions on our rights.

Last week, ICCL provided a rights-based analysis of the emergency legislation passing through the Dáil to all members of the Oireachtas. Our most pressing concern was that a firm sunset clause would be included, so that when the emergency is over the legislation will cease to exist. This was included following an amendment.

In his statement, the Taoiseach set out very clearly a strong emphasis on the welfare of the whole population and a proportionate approach to restrictions which take into account people’s needs. He also made clear that maintaining policing by consent is a core principle of Ireland’s response to COVID-19, and that he hoped we can achieve public health goals without resort to enforcement.

Liam Herrick continued:

“ICCL strongly welcomes the Government’s emphasis on solidarity and cooperation as the basis for Ireland’s public health response to COVID-19. We will examine closely the detail of the proposed new restrictions on public events and economic activity, but we broadly support the measured approach adopted by the Government to reduce transmission of this disease in the short term. It is essential that we all work together to ensure that the impact of COVID-19 and these emergency measures is not disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable in our society.”

ICCL also strongly welcomes the measures proposed in relation to income support, rent freeze, a ban on evictions and providing public healthcare in private hospitals. These are positive steps which are consistent with the government’s obligations to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure people are treated equally, particularly during a health emergency.

ICCL will be monitoring the application of the new emergency powers, which should only be exercised in a manner proportionate to the risk to public health. While we support in general the government’s decisive actions up until now, we will be unafraid to challenge them if these new powers are abused in any way.

Find ICCL’s full analysis of the emergency powers plus a summary at this link: