Minister signs new regulations introducing ‘social distancing’ enforcement powers
By Sarah Slevin
8 April 2020
In a previous Insight, we set out the key provisions of the new legislation (the “Health Act 2020”) introduced in response to the COVID-19 health crisis in Ireland by the Minister for Health (the “Minister”). As we noted, the powers introduced by the Health Act 2020 required the signing of regulations by the Minister to give effect to those powers and to detail any further specifics necessary for the operation of those powers.
Last night (7 April 2020), and in advance of the Easter bank holiday weekend, the Minister signed such regulations (the “Regulations”). Whilst the Regulations themselves do not introduce any new restrictions or significantly vary any orders or guidance given by the government and the National Public Health Emergency Team in advance of that date, they allow for the effective enforcement of these restrictions and/or orders under the Minister’s legislative power to do so under the Health Act 2020. Below are the key points for individuals and businesses to note from the Regulations.
- The Regulations took effect today, 8 April 2020 and remain in operation until 12 April 2020. After this date they will be of no further effect unless further regulations are introduced.
- The Regulations apply across the entire country (i.e. the State, as a whole, has been designated as an ‘affected area’ under the Health Act 2020).
- Individuals with a residence in the State (‘applicable persons’) may not leave their place of residence ‘without reasonable excuse’.
- Note that ‘place of residence’ means your home or: (1)if you do not have a home; or (2) you are not residing in your home, such other premises at which you are residing, whether permanently or temporarily. This means that if you were already at your holiday home when these Regulations came into force, you should stay there, but you should not travel to a holiday home otherwise.
- The Regulations provide a ‘non-exhaustive’ list of what is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving your residence. We are familiar with these by now as they reflect government instructions issued prior to the Regulations. These include:
- providing emergency assistance, avoiding injury or illness, escaping a risk of harm, whether to you or another person.
- moving to another residence where, in all circumstances, such movement is reasonably necessary; or
- certain activities or priests or ministers of religion;
- giving effect to arrangements for access to a child;
- accessing an essential service which cannot be accessed from the residence;
- fulfilling a legal obligation (including attending court, participating in ongoing proceedings or initiating emergency legal proceedings);
- attending the funeral of a close family member or person in your residence;
- attending to ‘vital family matters’ (including caring for ‘vulnerable persons’);
- exercise, either alone or with persons in your residence, within a two kilometre radius of your residence;
- seeking veterinary assistance;
- donating blood;
- seeking essential medical, health or emergency dental assistance (or seeking same for another person in your residence or a ‘vulnerable person’);
- attending medical appointment (or accompanying another person in your residence or a ‘vulnerable person’);
- going to an ‘essential retail outlet’ for the purposes of obtaining items or services for yourself, for other persons in your residence or for ‘vulnerable persons’;
- providing an ‘essential service’ (paid or unpaid);
Although the above list is non-exhaustive, i.e. there may be other ‘reasonable excuses’, individuals and businesses should in all circumstances look to limit activities to those listed above.
- The: (1) holding of; or (2) participation in events in the State is not permitted unless an event is a ‘relevant event’ (or the person is a ‘relevant participant’) and the number of participants in that ‘relevant event’ is limited to not more than is reasonably necessary having regard to the nature of the purposes for which the event is held.
- A ‘relevant event’ is one held for any of the purposes listed above, i.e. one for which a ‘reasonable excuse’ exists, and a ‘relevant participant’ is a person engaging in activity required for the purposes of that ‘relevant event’. In effect, this prevents any activities outside of those listed above.
- Non-compliance with the above rules during the time period specified above may lead to a fine of up to €2,500, six months’ imprisonment, or both. Under the Health Act 2020, members of An Garda Síochána have powers to enforce these Regulations (more detail on which can be found in our previous Insight). In addition, under the Health Act 2020 officers and managers of companies may be held liable for the actions of those companies that are in contravention of these Regulations.
The Regulations set out, in full, what constitute ‘essential services’. Whilst the Regulations provide slightly more detail, a list of these ‘essential services’ may also be accessed here - https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/dfeb8f-list-of-essential-service-providers-under-new-public-health-guidelin/. If you have questions regarding what is an ‘essential service’ RDJ can provide assistance to you.
For details of what is an ‘essential retail outlet’, see the government’s list (which is reflected in the Regulations) here - https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/625292-updated-list-of-essential-retail-outlets-27th-march-2020/.
A ‘vulnerable person’ is a person who either: (1) normally requires assistance in carrying out his or her daily activities (e.g. an elderly parent); (2) a person who, whilst not normally requiring such assistance, needs such assistance due to being particularly susceptible to the health risk posed by COVID-19 (e.g. an individual over 70 years of age who is ‘cocooning’; (3) not in a position to leave their residence due to COVID-19; or (4) a child.
What were previously ‘instructions’ or ‘guidance’ from the government (but which nonetheless received wide compliance) are now underpinning by penalties for non-compliance, if only for a number of days.
For more information on the content of this Insight, please contact:
Sarah Slevin, Associate Solicitor | E: firstname.lastname@example.org | T: +353 1 6054259