Donegal TDs urge government to amend emergency Covid travel laws

Anger as Gardaí don't have powers to arrest people from outside of the State

garda checkpoint

A garda checkpoint at Muff

Donegal's public representatives have urged the government to amend its emergency Covid-19 laws.

The public outcry follows the revelation that the emergency legislation restricting movement to help contain the coronavirus does not apply to day visitors from Northern Ireland or outside the State.

This effectively means that, for example, people from Derry can move about freely in the Republic while those living just over the border in Muff cannot.

Therefore visitors from outside the State can therefore travel here to beaches, to shop, to socialise or see friends or relatives even though they may be more than 2km from their homes.

Gardai have been turning large numbers of motorists around at border checkpoints, since the emergency legislation has come into force. However there has been widespread shock at the loophole in the legislation.

Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn called on the Minister for Health to immediately amend regulations to allow Gardaí to enforce emergency travel restrictions on movement of all persons who travel in the State during this public health crisis.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn said: “The confirmation that regulations allowing Gardaí to enforce restrictions on movement of travel during this Covid-19 crisis can only be applied to persons living in the State has understandably caused real anger.

“It is important to say that the vast majority of people have been adhering to the travel restrictions, north and south, but these emergency laws are for the very small minority who won’t and who are undermining the immense sacrifice of the many at this time.

“It is unacceptable that the Minister and his senior officials have made this error; considering that all of the government legislation goes through the Attorney General’s office.

“I will be seeking for this to be resolved as soon as possible. The Minister should immediately amend the regulations concerning travel restrictions as they are underpinned by emergency legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue has written to the Taoiseach and Minister for Health asking that they immediately amend the new regulations to ensure they apply to everyone, even if they live outside of the State.

Deputy McConalogue said: “The vast majority of people have made a massive effort over the last number of weeks to restrict their movements to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to protect themselves and others from catching it.

“The allocation of powers of enforcement to the Gardaí was important in ensuring that everyone changed their behaviour and that anyone inclined not to heed the advice could be directed to do so.

“While the vast majority have and will continue to follow the public health advice and make the immense personal sacrifices that come with that, it is essential that the Gardaí have the powers necessary to ensure that anyone that does not follow the advice can be fully cautioned.

“I have written today to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health expressing the particular concern of those living in border areas and requesting that the enforcement regulations be amended immediately to give Gardaí the power to enforce the restrictions with everyone regardless of where they are from.

“While it is the case that new legislation cannot pass in the Oireachtas until a new Government is in place, it is possible for the Minister for Health to amend these regulations as he was granted these emergency powers in legislation recently passed by the Dail and Seanad.

“I will be seeking that this matter is clarified immediately and that necessary amendments to the regulations are urgently introduced so that Gardai can continue their good work in ensuring that the movement restrictions are adhered to by everyone.”

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