IRELAND: ICCL – Extraordinary police powers should not be used

Article originally published on ICCL, 8 April 2020 – accessible here

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said the Gardaí must continue to take a community policing approach to enforcing the new regulations signed by the Minister for Health last night. The Garda Commissioner has said that people are complying with the rules in general. Therefore it is unlikely that any use of these powers is necessary.

If they are used, it is essential that is recorded and monitored as a safeguard against their abuse and to ensure they are used as minimally as possible, if at all. No implementation should take place before there is clear operational guidance to ensure a sparing and consistent implementation of these powers. The Policing Authority should also be given a clear and robust monitoring role.

ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:

“The approach of An Garda Síochána up to this point has been based on consent and has been for the most part successful. We urge both Government and Gardaí to continue this approach. The vast majority of people have been observing the advice to stay at home and restrict movements to what is essential for the past two weeks.

So it is not clear that there is any demonstrated need to move from consent to enforcement and we urge the Garda Commissioner to make it clear that the introduction of these regulations does not lead to any significant change in the operational approach of the Gardaí.”

The new regulations are directly linked to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) restrictions of 27 March, and will apply until 12 April. That short period and the link to independent public health advice is important from a human rights perspective.

However, we note that it has been 12 days since the current restrictions were imposed, and 18 days since the legislation was signed into law. During that time the Gardaí have managed successfully without recourse to criminal sanctions, indicating perhaps that there is no need for these regulations.

Any heavy-handed enforcement of the regulations carries serious dangers for the relationship between Gardaí and the public, especially around asking for documentary proof of employment. Criminalising those who do not comply could clog up the criminal justice system at a time when courts are closed but for urgent cases and prisons are trying to achieve physical distancing.

Mr Herrick said:

“The introduction of police powers to restrict ordinary movement of people reflects an extraordinary and hopefully unique moment in our history. It is imperative that the powers are lifted at the very earliest point possible.”

ICCL also reiterates its call on the government to take positive steps, in line with its human rights obligations, to protect socially and economically vulnerable populations such as those living in homelessness, the Traveller community, prisoners, and those living in nursing homes and Direct Provision centres. We particularly call on government to provide nursing homes with the resources promised last weekend.

Mr Herrick said

“This is a crisis where we must all work together in solidarity to protect the most vulnerable. We must do all we can to ensure that everyone has access to the facilities necessary to implement social distancing and self-isolation when necessary.”