Thursday, 10 September 2020
Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Rónán Mullen (Independent)
I want to support Senator Higgins's amendment. Like others, I am not opposing the passage of this Bill. I certainly hope that one effect of the Bill is to help make it virtually impossible for the Government to defer the opening of pubs beyond 21 September, if it is to retain credibility, that is.
Senator Higgins rightly pointed out the context in which all of this is taking place. We have had a lot of necessary conversation already today about the rush with this legislation. Given that the pubs will not be reopening for another ten days, I do not understand it. We are at a stage where the Government needs to be very careful about how it is seen. Notwithstanding the emergency we are in as a country, the Government has to be very careful about how it is seen to operate. For that reason, the Senator is quite right to say that any extension envisaged by this legislation should be up front and should be understood to be for a defined period. While I accept what the Minister of State said about it being possible to put a date on it at a later date the Government needs to be seen to be conservative rather than excessive at this point.
It is a fundamental precept of democracy and the rule of law in any country that a government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. It is also a fundamental principle that new laws should not be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. We know all of that but there has been a direction of travel in what has been going on in this country with the Government's measures and approach and I worry we are getting close to the line where public trust in the measures is being put at risk. The public has shown forbearance in accepting the draconian powers granted by the Oireachtas to the Government and it is only right and proper that they should. The Opposition has given great latitude to the Government but there is a point where things get to their limit and it is in everybody's interest that we continue to all be in this together. That means that there continues to be public respect for what is going on.We all know the things that put at risk public respect, such as the arbitrary nature of the €9 meal requirement or the requirement that pubs retain records of meals, and the surreal report yesterday that when pubs reopen they will be forced to keep down the volume of their televisions as though that has anything to do with Covid. I am concerned about what the late Professor John Kelly called laughing stock measures, where there is a laudable public health goal but it could be reduced to a laughing stock because of the wrong approach being taken in the pursuit of those measures. We have moved in recent weeks from a change in tone from appealing to the better nature of citizens to act responsibly to maybe a more punitive approach that punishes behaviour that the Government wants to frown on. That is the wrong approach. It is with that dangerous drift in mind that Senator Higgins is absolutely right to insist on limits. Her proposal is reasonable.