Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to present this important Bill. I welcome the broad support it received in the Dáil last week. The purpose of the Bill is very clear from its Title. It is about new enforcement powers for the Garda Síochána for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. More specifically the Bill relates to commercial premises where alcohol is sold or supplied for consumption on the premises under a licence or in a registered club. Let me be clear from the outset that the enforcement powers in this Bill do not and cannot apply to people's homes. Last week I made the point that having the powers to close licensed premises temporarily would, in my view, allow for the wider opening of more licensed premises in the very near future. That has turned out to be the case. On Tuesday the Government took the decision to reopen wet bars that do not serve substantial meals from 21 September with the possibility of some local restrictions. This is another important step in getting our lives back to some semblance of normality, albeit in a term I do not like, the "new normal". The enactment of this Bill and the possibility of strong enforcement powers will allow for the reopening of wet bars. This State has an absolute duty to preserve and protect public health and this Government, and the previous Government, have not been slow to introduce tough and extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to minimise the risk to our citizens.One of those measures has been to keep licensed premises closed where they do not serve substantial meals. There has been some commentary that we have treated publicans like second-class citizens, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Government is aware of how extraordinarily difficult the past six months have been for publicans. It has been our goal at all times to ensure that whatever measures we take will lead to a safe and gradual reopening of society with as few restrictions as possible. The Government is also aware that the vast majority of publicans whose premises have been open continue to comply fully with the Covid-19 restrictions. As Minister I am very grateful for the high levels of compliance from the bars and restaurants that are going through a very difficult period and want to thank them sincerely for their support. These are good, decent employers who accept that the Covid-19 regulations are necessary for the greater public good. That being said, there are always the few who will not comply with the regulations and who will continue to put their employees and customers at risk. This is not acceptable and is not fair to those who are fully compliant either. Ensuring that everyone is playing their part in complying with the public health regulations is the most sure way of keeping us all safe.

As the law stands, a Garda member who suspects that a licensee is contravening the penal provisions of the Covid-19 regulations can issue a direction to that licensee to take steps to comply. The vast majority will do so, but for those who continue to flout the regulations, we need some way of enforcing them and that is what this Bill provides. This Bill will encourage the small minority of licensed premises that are acting contrary to public health regulations to bring themselves into immediate compliance. Senators will be aware that An Garda Síochána has been carrying out extensive work in support of the range of public health measures since the onset of the pandemic. An Garda Síochána has been widely praised for the graduated policing approach which has been adopted in all of its actions since the beginning of the pandemic, whereby Garda members engage, educate and encourage and only as a last resort enforce. The enforcement powers in this Bill will continue to be a last resort for those who fail or refuse to come into compliance. In an ideal world, of course, the powers will never be used, but at most I believe they will be required infrequently.

An Garda Síochána identified a total of 198 potential breaches between Friday, 3 July and Sunday 6 August, including a number of licensed premises at which multiple potential breaches were identified. We will have to wait and see if that number increases once wet pubs reopen later this month. This is an unacceptable risk to public health. It undermines the efforts and sacrifices made by so many in our society, including the licensees who are being responsible and doing the right thing. That is why I am introducing a range of enforcement powers ranging from on-the-spot closure for the rest of the day to a maximum of a 30-day closure for repeated non-compliance with Garda directions. My firm belief is that by providing these additional enforcement powers to gardaí, we will see an immediate improvement in compliance with Covid-19 regulations by publicans, restaurateurs and operators of private clubs in the interest of public health and in a way that will protect the gradual reopening of our society.

I will briefly outline the contents of the Bill to the House. Sections 1 and 2 are standard and relate to the interpretation and the application of the Act to licensed premises and clubs selling or supplying liquor to members or visitors for consumption on the premises. Section 3 provides for entry without a warrant of a member of An Garda Síochána to such premises for the inspection and other purposes under the Bill and creates an offence for a person who prevents, obstructs or attempts to prevent or obstruct a garda from doing so.

Sections 4 to 7, inclusive, set out the key new powers which I am proposing. Under Section 31A of the Health Act 1947, which was introduced to deal with Covid-19, a member of An Garda Síochána can give a direction to a person who, in the garda's view, is failing to comply with penal regulations made under the section. If the person does not comply with the Garda direction, he or she is committing an offence. In addition to the offence under the 1947 Act, these sanctions provide that where a licensed premises fails to comply with the direction of An Garda Síochána in relation to the public health regulations, a Garda member of at least superintendent rank may in the first instance make an immediate closure order for the remainder of the day once he or she is satisfied, based on the information provided, that there has been a failure to comply with the direction given and it is appropriate to do so.

Second, An Garda Síochána may apply to the District Court for an emergency closure order for a period of up to 72 hours where there has been a failure to comply with more than one direction on more than one occasion. Third, An Garda Síochána may, where there has been a failure to comply with a direction, issue a compliance notice to a relevant premises ordering it to comply forthwith and warning of the consequences of a failure to comply with the notice. An Garda Síochána may apply to the District Court for a temporary closure order where there has been a failure to comply with the compliance notice issued under section 6 and this failure is likely to continue or recur. This order could be for a period of not more than seven days in the case of the first order made and not more than 30 days in the case of a second or subsequent order made in relation to a premises. I wish to state unequivocally that the enforcement measures provided for in these sections may only be taken where a direction of a member of An Garda Síochána has not been complied with. We wish to ensure that all persons have an opportunity to comply. Where a mistake is made or a person does not realise that he or she is not in compliance, the person will have an opportunity to comply. This is in line with the approach taken by gardaí to date, that is, to direct an individual to comply with the regulations in the first instance and to take further action only where there has been a failure to comply following that direction. The whole purpose of the provision is to achieve compliance and not to close down businesses. These sections also create a number of new offences where a person fails to comply with an immediate closure notice or permits a business to be open in contravention of an emergency or temporary closure notice.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I wish to repeat my comments in the Lower House that the approach taken in the Bill is to provide for Garda enforcement of criminal law provisions and not public health assessments. The approach taken in these sections is to establish the power for Garda members to make directions and enforce the penal provisions of the Covid-19 regulations and offences provided for under the Bill and the Health Act 1947. An Garda Síochána will only need to be satisfied that a relevant provision of the criminal law has been breached, not the likely impact of that breach on public health.

Sections 9 and 10 provide for, respectively, appeals against a compliance notice and a temporary closure order. This is in addition to provisions allowing an application to be made to discharge an emergency closure order under section 5 of the Bill.

An appeal may be made to the District Court in respect of a compliance notice within seven days of such a notice being issued by a member. The court may confirm, vary or revoke the notice. Any decision of the District Court in this regard can also be appealed to the Circuit Court, adding an extra important safeguard for publicans or other licence holders. An appeal may also be made to the Circuit Court against a temporary closure ordered by the District Court. These are important safeguards in the Bill.

Sections 11 and 12 provide that conviction of offences under this Act or the making of a closure order under the Act may be a basis for an objection in respect of a renewal of a license or, in the case of a private club, a certificate of registration.

This Bill is closely related to the new Covid-19 regulations prepared by the Minister for Health, and section 13 is a necessary amendment of section 31A of the Health Act 1947. This amendment provides that the Minister for Health may prescribe penal provisions of regulations made under the Health Act 1947 to which the provisions of this Bill, in particular, will apply. He may do so following consultation with me and any other Minister as he considers appropriate.

Sections 14 to 16, inclusive, contain necessary technical provisions around liability for offences by bodies corporate, exercise of jurisdiction by the District and Circuit Courts, as well as service of documents.

Section 17 is primarily a technical section setting out the Title and operation of the Bill. I would, however, particularly draw Senators' attention to the provisions of section 17(3), which contains an explicit sunset clause. The section provides that, if enacted, this legislation will continue in operation only until 9 November 2020, subject to a resolution approving its continuation being passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is to reflect the expiry date contained in Part 3 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020.

I fully recognise that the powers I am proposing are significant. The Bill is necessary and proportionate and represents a carefully balanced approach to addressing the small minority of licensed premises which are showing disregard for public health regulations. None of the provisions can be triggered unless a person fails to comply with a Garda direction in the first instance.

I remind Senators that the legislation is temporary and contains a sunset clause such that it can only be extended with the approval of a resolution passed in both Houses. Providing for these additional, limited powers will enable gardaí to move swiftly to address those cases in which licensed premises and private clubs breach public health regulations, in the context of the grave threat to human life and public health that we are facing. As I stated, I am confident this will encourage greater overall compliance and will support the hard work and good faith efforts being made by the vast majority of licensed premises to operate within the law.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Barry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire ar ais arís go dtí an Teach. This is important legislation. The Minister has outlined the basis on which she has brought it before the House. In the first instance, as was raised on the Order of Business, several Senators are concerned that the legislation is being taken through all Stages in one day. I think the Minister will acknowledge that so doing is not desirable, but in the case of this legislation, it is necessary.The Minister remarked on how section 17 contains a sunset clause that will bring the legislation back before us to possibly conclude it in less than two months, on 9 November. This is an important provision. It goes back to what the Minister said about there being both important powers but also safeguards in the legislation to protect the people who might be the subject of the legislation but also empowering these Houses to reconsider what is proposed when the time comes.

From my perspective, the most important aspect of this legislation is that it represents a stepping stone to a possible reopening of pubs. Some Senators have expressed reservations and dismay about the fact that pubs have not been able to open. I agree with that. We can all say that it is a bad thing for the country generally that people are not able to socialise or meet in the way in which they could in the past. However, we also recognise why it is the case. I say that as someone who has family members who are publicans in a rural area. I very much understand the plight of, in particular, areas with low populations where the pub was the centre of activity and of opportunity for people to come together, meet and socialise. There is definitely a gap for those rural communities. This legislation represents a potential stepping stone to returning to some normality in that regard. If only for that reason, it is very welcome.

The Minister has noted that the legislation contains important powers which she described as necessary and proportionate. That is exactly what they are. I do not purport to be an expert on licensing law but I am aware of some of the provisions involved. The Bill introduces important new powers for gardaí to step in where they can see that breaches have occurred. I welcome particularly the Minister's statement to the effect that there is a necessity to afford an opportunity to every person to comply with the law in the first instance before there would be any prosecution. That is a very important message.

I watched the debate in the Dáil and was most disappointed by the manufactured hysteria generated by some Deputies, one of whom described the legislation as draconian. I do not think that is a fair or accurate description of the powers provided in the Bill. Those powers will allow gardaí to go into licensed premises which are subject to very particular conditions to ascertain whether the licensed premises are following the rules that have been set down. They are not insignificant rules, they are rules that are there for very good reasons. They establish a particular set of protocols that must be observed in the normal course to protect society in general but also, in the particular circumstances we face whereby there is a specific public health emergency and without overstating the point, to save lives.

The provisions put in place by the Department of Health and other regulations are there to protect the community at large at a time when we know that numbers are rising. In that context, far from being very draconian, these powers are proportionate and necessary to safeguard public health. They are in contrast to the powers the Garda now has, which is not to shut down premises but, rather, to pursue prosecutions in respect of matters such as the sale of alcohol to minors or offences under the Equal Status Acts. They must come in that context before gardaí can actually take the ultimate step of closing a premises on either a temporary or permanent basis. This allows action to be taken much more quickly which is appropriate in the context of the public health emergency where breaches of these rules are not merely undesirable but dangerous and must be taken in hand. That is why it is appropriate for gardaí to have powers to inspect and to act where they think it is appropriate to do so.

Another Deputy suggested in the Dáil that this is all about a moral opprobrium associated with the people sponsoring the legislation and their dislike of either public houses or alcohol consumption. This is a preposterous notion given, I suspect, that there is probably a not Member of either House who has never been to a pub or enjoyed the time they spent in a pub with friends or family. There is no such opprobrium nor could there be as there is very clearly a public will for these establishments to operate.

I return to the point that this is an opportunity to see a pathway to reopening pubs.Some of the concerns that have been expressed are quite manufactured. For example, it has been claimed that this legislation might enable gardaí to go into a publican's home or somehow break into a private dwelling. The inviolability of a dwelling is supremely protected by Article 40.5 of the Constitution. This is manufactured hysteria on the part of people who may well have legitimate concerns, but are trumping up issues with this legislation to make them more sensational or claim the legislation does more than it does.

Nor does this legislation seek to target publicans or people engaged in this business. This House will know from the pronouncements of Ministers that there is a desire to bring this feature of our society back into operation. That is something we all want to do. There is no way we can reopen pubs it if we cannot take action against the very small number of pubs that do not comply with the legislation. One Member of the other House described this legislation as so serious that we are now like the dictatorships of Russia, which was the most extraordinary statement I heard in the course of the debate. The populist desire to be seen to be taking a firm line is all very well, and I understand that Members have to represent the views and concerns that have been made known to them. However, the notion that anything in here equates to that level of authoritarianism reflects more on the Member who said it than anything in the legislation. It also indicates how little the actual contents of this legislation are understood. The Minister set out the case very clearly and went through the various sections and what they do. We are empowering An Garda to safeguard the population in the context of a global pandemic. If there is one thing we have learned during the pandemic it is that An Garda has used those powers sparingly. This is a reasonable and proportionate piece of legislation.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I will be sharing my time with Senator Lisa Chambers. Cuirim fáilte ar ais go dtí an Teach roimh an Aire.

I would like to thank the Minister for outlining the Bill before us this afternoon. There is no doubt that we live in strange times. This piece of legislation underlines that again if it needed to be underlined. I can say on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group that we are happy to support the legislation this afternoon. I anticipate and sincerely hope that the number of times this legislation will be used will be minimal. The Minister has said the same. It is important to note that the vast majority of the people of this State have done themselves and the country proud in how they reacted to this pandemic. When talking about licensed premises it is important to acknowledge the fact that owners of what are now commonly known as "wet pubs" have had to keep their doors closed for the last six months. They and, by extension, their families have paid a price. The financial and mental impact of having to keep their doors closed has been serious. It is important to acknowledge the great sacrifice they have made, and in that regard I am delighted that they will be allowed to open their doors again from 21 September. That is not coming a day too soon.

I note also that the restart grant and restart grant plus schemes were made available to publicans. More recently a top-up scheme was announced by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Varadkar, whereby 40% of the restart grant plus will be made available to help publicans reopen their premises. I have been in contact with my own local authority in Monaghan. It is still awaiting directions from the Department on the administration of that funding. I would like to bring that to the Minister's attention and ask for it to be expedited. I understand that the local authorities are ready to write cheques, but they need criteria from the Department.I respectfully ask that this would be fast-tracked as soon as possible because work will have to be done between now and 21 September.

It is also important to acknowledge the role the Garda has played during this pandemic over the past six months. From what I witnessed and from speaking to people, both gardaí and members of the public, it has been an opportunity for the Garda to reconnect with many communities. That has been welcomed by the communities and by the gardaí. Yes, the gardaí are stopping people on the road, but it is an advisory role and it is an opportunity for gardaí to have a conversation with people. That has gone down very well. The gardaí tell me that they are now operating on a 12-hour shift, which has allowed a greater number of gardaí to be on the streets during peak hours. From what I have detected, that has proved to be a great success. There are large numbers operating and the shifts have been changed to accommodate that. In my view, it has been a success. I ask the Minister to be cognisant of that. The 12-hour shift has facilitated an opportunity for more gardaí to be on the streets at the times they are needed. I would certainly like to see that continue if the majority of the Garda representative bodies was in favour of it.

The other section of our society that deserves great credit is our communities. The Irish people have done themselves proud. They have looked out for one another. A unique aspect of this Covid-19 disease is that it is not just about ourselves but about those around us, be they family or friends. There have been many examples of community sporting organisations and voluntary organisations coming together to help each other through this difficult time. It is important that we recognise and applaud the great sense of togetherness that Covid-19 has brought out in us. It is something we should nourish and cherish because it makes this country unique among others in that regard. Local GAA clubs are delivering groceries and other things. It is great to see that. I am happy to support the Bill.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Gallagher for sharing time. I read with interest Sarah McInerney's article in The Sunday Times last Sunday, and I agree with the sentiments in the article. We have been talking about the reopening of pubs too much given that there are other, more pertinent, issues for the country to deal with, such as the reopening of the schools, the safety of children, the increasing death toll from the pandemic and many other pressing issues. However, we must deal with it. Some of the publicans I have spoken to in my constituency in Mayo want this legislation. For the most part, they are doing things by the rules and doing them well. They do not like to see the very small number of publicans who are flouting the rules and taking the opportunity to open for longer and have people on the premises for longer, whereas others are not doing that. It is okay that some publicans are not serving food and do not wish to serve food and they should be allowed to open. I certainly welcome that date.

There has been a particular issue with smaller pubs in rural communities. We have spoken a great deal about pubs in the context of drinking, nights out and socialising, but the local pub in a small rural community can be far more than that. It is a meeting place. We all have felt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic differently. Some of us experienced a positive lockdown as we had more time with family and children. I got to stay at home with my family and I have a back garden, but things are very different for other people. It was not the same for everybody. I think of the person who is a bachelor farmer in the west of Ireland who, perhaps, is living alone and does not have social interaction. There was a point when there were no funerals, no mass, no access to the local pub and the mart was closed. For some people that is their social scene. That is where they meet their friends. They get out of the house and that is where they have conversations and interact with other people. There was a huge void when all those things were taken away. It has exposed the great level of isolation and loneliness in many parts of our society and country.

We must be careful not to be too flippant and dismissive of the real need to reopen these pubs. They are not just a place for people to have an alcoholic drink, but a place to socialise and connect with people. They are community meeting rooms. They are places where the local community often come to have their community council meetings or where somebody goes to meet neighbours.There is an awful lot more to it than has been acknowledged by some people in this debate. I disagree with the commentary of some public representatives that these laws are draconian. It is opposition for opposition's sake. Anyone who engages with the publicans that are abiding by the rules will know that they welcome this measure and do not fear anything from it. They want a level playing field for all and for everybody to abide by the same rules.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I call Senator Keogan. The Senator has eight minutes.

Sharon Keogan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to the House. I was taken aback by the Minister's remarks in regard to private homes. This is not hysteria. I read in today's The Irish Timesthat a couple in my county was fined €2,000 because two gardaí had looked in the window of their house and seen a considerable number of people inside. I thought the private home was off limits. We need clarification on that today. To my mind, the private home is off limits to An Garda Síochána. There is legislation in place in the form of the environmental Act in regard to noise pollution, the use of which I welcome in respect of parties in houses but as far as I am concerned gardaí looking through the windows of people's homes at this time to determine how many people are inside is not on. It is important to put that on the record.

I was delighted to hear that wet pubs will be permitted to open on 21 September. These pubs have been closed for six months at this stage. Given that September also marks the end of the moratorium on mortgages this is timely action as many pubs may be facing the possibility of mortgage default or eventual permanent closure.

While I welcome this Bill in a general context there are many aspects of it, particularly the how and the why of its coming about, that I find worrying. There has been a distinct lack of clarity surrounding the Bill as it progresses through the Houses. I am concerned about the scale of the powers in this legislation. They are very broad-ranging. The legislation sets out mechanisms of enforcement for An Garda Síochána and the penalties to be applied but it does not appear to go into any detail about the crimes involved. We are being asked to accept the Department of Justice and Equality criminal sanctions as laid out while the actual offences are to be set out in regulations from the Department of Health. This is a failure of process. It is a dangerous path to accept such legislation. We cannot know what will end up being criminalised by the Department. We cannot and should not allow legislation to pass with such vague information, especially when people's livelihoods are at stake.

It is also concerning that this Bill is being rushed through. I am not oblivious to the time constraints involved but it is often the case when the appropriate processes are not followed that the legislative outcome is of poor quality. There have been inadequacies in the process relating to the legislation, particularly in that the legislation has been extremely rushed. Publishing a Bill in advance and giving people time to consider it and further time to debate it properly are necessary processes. I recognise that the Department is working within time constraints but we must then accept that the proposed legislation is not likely to be of the desired standard that is achieved when the appropriate processes are undergone.

I understand that as this is emergency legislation the sunset clause will bring it to an end in November, barring any extensions granted by the Oireachtas. These regulations must remain temporary in nature, especially because in reality they will only be relevant to a minority of operators within the licensed trade sector that breach the regulations set in place. I would hope that it will also provide clarity and assurances to licensed traders who will be allowed to open soon.The Minister appears to have recognised the excuse of keeping pubs shut is not valid anymore given that this legislation would ensure the pubs that do not serve the €9 of food to customers, which the Government deemed essential in the fight against Covid-19, can operate in the same standards and guidelines as those pubs that do serve food.

This sector was left behind by Government policy and was forced to remain out of operation far beyond what was asked of publicans in other parts of Europe. Unfortunately, our pubs have not received the necessary supports up until this point. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection must immediately look to address this issue, which would future-proof this sector. I suggest a once-off grant of €25,000 to each publican to diversify their business. This grant would allow them to put in an alternative source of income, such as installation of a kitchen, a deli, a coffee shop, an off-licence, accommodation, or any other business from which they could derive an income.

Having a functioning business is what keeps the economy going. We must support them in this transition. Currently, Ireland is the only country in Europe that still has its pubs closed. We must remember that for many towns and villages across Ireland the local pub is an important gathering place for local communities. They are a place where communities can come together to celebrate special occasions and holidays, for sporting events, and to have community meetings and other events. While I do not suggest these things should be ongoing in the current climate, it is our duty to ensure that these pubs get the support they need to open and be active within their communities. The failure of the Government to act appropriately could result in the collapse of the sector. Such a loss would be felt in every village and town across the country. I hope the legislation will follow on from that. The legislation concerns a very small minority of operators within the licensed trade sector.

The Government continues to pick and choose where to implement legislation, such as with this Bill before us today, rather than focusing on the sectors that have proven to be responsible for significant outbreaks of Covid-19, for example in the meat factories. It is baffling that the Government has yet to take control of that situation. Those factories are still only obliged to adhere to guidelines. The suspension of testing at these meat factories will come back to haunt NPHET and this Government. All factories where large numbers of employees gather for the production of food, or for any other product, are Petri dishes for this virus. Such lack of action only serves to deplete the public's confidence in public health restrictions.

Building public confidence needs to be a priority right now. As our economy slowly opens it seems there are some people who find it all too easy to forget that Covid-19 remains rampant throughout the world. It can still cause inordinate damage in our health, our economy and in our society. We need to continue to remind ourselves of the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and to combat the risk of rising figures. Let us not forget the sacrifices we have made already to allow us to get to this point. We do not want to find ourselves in the position we once found ourselves back in March. It is unthinkable that we would find ourselves dealing with a second surge of cases and yet every day the numbers grow increasingly concerning. We now have the knowledge we need to proactively manage the threat posed by the virus, while allowing our businesses to operate. I am happy that pubs will now join those businesses in operating, while at a reduced capacity. The legislation covering this must be clear, precise and as transparent as possible. This is not the case here.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I thank my colleague, Senator Gavan, for giving way as I have to be at the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to the House. I reiterate the concerns, as raised by others already, about the timeframe within which we debate this legislation. It is most unfortunate that we are taking all Stages of this important Bill just in one day. I made this point earlier on the Order of Business. It is also unfortunate that the debate coincides with our meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I apologise in advance for having to leave the Chamber for that meeting straight after speaking. Deputy Howlin spoke on the Bill in the Dáil. On foot of what he said, Labour will not be opposing the Bill. However, we still have concerns about it and we have proposed two amendments to it arising from those concerns. Our concerns derive specifically from the fact that this is emergency legislation. It creates criminal sanction and imposes draconian measures. I listened with interest to Senator Ward, who spoke about something being either draconian or proportionate. Of course, a measure can be draconian and yet proportionate depending on the circumstances.

Over two days, on 19 and 20 March, emergency legislation was passed. Under the provisions of this legislation, a great number of statutory instruments have since been implemented. I refer to the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020. Everybody accepts that this Act facilitated the imposition of draconian provisions via its amending of primary legislation, the Health Act 1947. We all accepted then, as we do now, that, in the context of the Covid-19 emergency, it is necessary to enact laws that would otherwise be deemed unacceptable. We all accept and support the need for sunset clauses in these laws. I appreciate that there is a sunset clause in this Bill which refers to the date of 9 November, which is the same sunset clause as in the earlier preservation and protection and other emergency measures Act.

Grave, justified concerns have been expressed about the extension of penal sanction to certain measures through the plethora of statutory instruments that have been signed by the Minister for Health. We saw recently SI 326 of 2020, which contained a number of different rules, some of which are not stated to be penal provisions and therefore do not carry a threat of penal sanction. Yesterday, at a meeting of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, this matter was raised by a number of entities, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and my colleague from Trinity College, Dr. David Kenny. Concerns were expressed about the way in which public health guidelines have crossed into the criminal law domain by use of the mechanism provided initially in the Health Act 1947, which was enacted to deal with a different public health crisis, although it was in some ways similar. That public health crisis related to tuberculosis. Under the Act, we saw this crossover being permitted.

Where we all accept there is a public health emergency, we must also ensure there are democratic checks and balances on processes. SI 326 of 2020 is currently the subject of a motion before the Lower House, and it gave rise to concerns because of what looked like constructive ambiguities or fudging of what were guidelines and what were to be penal provisions. Some Ministers suggested that civil offences may be introduced, although we know that there is no such thing in Irish law. Something is either a penal provision or it is not.

The Labour Party accepts that there is a major need for public buy-in in respect of public health guidelines. We would go further and say that we promote the concept of policing by consent. We think, and most people would accept, that public health guidelines are far more effective when they have public buy-in and people comply out of goodwill and belief in efficacy or effectiveness. That is what guarantees a level of compliance that is far greater than anything that could be achieved through the use of blunt powers under the criminal law. I say this not to suggest all our public health guidelines should carry criminal sanction - far from it - but we must trust that there will be compliance even without penal sanction and that where penal sanction is attached, it must be imposed in a clear and consistent way. It should be proportionate, even when the powers proposed are draconian.

Under the powers provided to the Minister for Health, over 20 statutory instruments have been introduced. There is confusion regarding which of these provide for penal provisions and which do not. It is clear that some have been revoked, having carried penal sanction, while others have not. Deputy Howlin provided some examples arising from SI 326 of 2020. These are well known to people. Others are perhaps not so clear. People are generally aware that they must, subject to penal sanction, wear face coverings on public transport.There was less certainty about the rules around the green list and travelling and compliance with the restrictive movement requirements on return from abroad from countries that are not on the green list. These types of issues have created some level of confusion and, within the Garda, may make it harder to enforce laws and ensure there is compliance.

I looked at a Garda police union survey conducted by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in June. The survey reported certain difficulties among gardaí on how to enforce certain measures. We need to ensure there is clarity. It is unfortunate that SI 326 of 2020 was introduced in a setting where perhaps there was confused messaging from Government around the measures to be introduced.

We should take heart from the fact that in general we have seen high levels of compliance, even where penal sanctions have not been attached to public health guidelines. Let us consider some of the figures around the checks that have been conducted by the Garda on licensed premises, which is the subject of this Bill. Since 3 July as part of Operation Navigation, the Garda has been checking licensed premises for adherence to previous regulations under SI 234 of 2020. Between 3 July and 23 August the Garda identified 165 potential breaches, but the force has reported a drop in breaches and a high level of compliance in general. Last week there were only 13 breaches, down from 21 the previous week. That bears out the point that, since lockdown rules were first announced internationally and here in Ireland, the experience everywhere, including here, has been that effective compliance in terms of dropping transmission rates is better achieved through soft mechanisms like consent, co-operation and the strong spirit of solidarity that we have seen. This includes solidarity with our front-line workers and the many people who have been bereaved through the awful incidence of Covid-19.

We support this Bill. We have put in amendments. We are keen to ensure that we give it proper and rigorous parliamentary scrutiny. However, we accept that in a time of Covid-19 crisis these measures are necessary.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I wish to begin by placing on the record of the House my unhappiness at conducting legislative scrutiny in this hurried manner. It is not how we should be conducting the business of this revising Chamber. We are waiving pre-legislative scrutiny and there has been no regulatory impact assessment. The decision to take all Stages in one sitting is all for practice. It means, for example, that no amendment, no matter how perfect or valuable it may be, has absolutely any chance of being considered or passed by Government. That is highly disrespectful to all of us. I cannot understand why, for example, we could not have taken Committee and Remaining Stages on a day next week, as suggested this morning. That would still have been timely in terms of the opening of the pubs.

The rigorous focus on this emergency legislation, while arguably necessary, stands in stark contrast to the complete absence of Government action in tackling actual existing causes of Covid-19 clusters in meat factories and other agri-processing sectors. Where is the emergency legislation to protect our meat factory workers? Why is the Government requiring publicans to follow a rigorous set of rules and procedures while not even requiring meat factories to have to report instances of Covid-19 to the Health and Safety Authority? The public would be shocked to realise that there is no requirement on meat factories to report instances of Covid-19 to the Health and Safety Authority. That is the case because of a change made by the then Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in 2016. It beggars belief, given the track record of meat factories in recent months, that this requirement is not in place. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to address that issue in her response.

Where is the emergency legislation to give statutory sick pay to all workers? That is already the norm across much of Europe.

Some 25 years after the beef tribunal it would appear that the beef barons remain untouchable when it comes to the rules and regulations that the rest of us have to follow. They can enjoy the benefits of bonded labour thanks to the disgraceful work permit system operating by the Government. They can pay poverty wages. They can sack anyone who dares to join a trade union. They can threaten their largely immigrant workforce with impunity and with the fact that if they do not like the terms and conditions on offer, the factory will get another planeload of workers in to replace them. That is an actual quote from one factory, as exposed on Claire Byrne's radio show last week.There is no emergency legislation for those workers or special sitting of the Seanad. I guess in the big scheme of things, these workers - so many of them new to our country - just do not matter to this Government. I should also cite the dreadful experience of direct provision residents with regard to Covid-19. Again, I will not hold my breath for the Government to line up emergency legislation or a special sitting for those poor people either.

This Bill will give additional enforcement powers to gardaí with regard to licensed premises and certain private membership clubs. It has a sunset clause, which as the Minister has said, is essential. It is important to say the vast majority of licensed premises and clubs have behaved very well and gone to significant effort and no little expense in ensuring Covid-19 protocols are followed. All those premises have been let down by a small minority of pubs and premises that have not complied, and a number of these premises have been highlighted across various media in recent weeks.

The additional powers being given to gardaí in this Bill are significant and, under normal circumstances, Sinn Féin would not support such a significant increase in powers. However, these are not normal times and the truth is enforcement powers are a necessary step on the road to getting our pubs open again. There is a real incongruity in the current status quoas some pubs can open because they serve food or have managed to procure a supply of pizza while other so-called wet pubs must remain closed and watch as their customers go elsewhere. There is something fundamentally unfair about this. As my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, pointed out last week, if every pub in a village or town could open, there would be fewer people in each premises.

The powers in this Bill to enter and, where necessary, close a licensed premises are, on balance, necessary to give gardaí the power to make enforcement a reality and tackle that small minority of premises that would seek to disregard Covid-19 protocols and guidelines.

I will briefly go through the key sections of the Bill. Section 3 provides for entry without warrant of a member of An Garda Síochána to a relevant premises for inspection and other purposes. Again, in these special circumstances, Sinn Féin is prepared to support this. Sections 4 to 7, inclusive, as explained by the Minister, set out the new powers for immediate closure, emergency closures and compliance notices. Perhaps most significantly, sections 11 and 12 set out grounds for objection to the renewal of licences. Again, I stress that these are measures we only support under these special circumstances and for a strictly limited period.

I hope that the Government, health authorities and vintners can work out better medium-term arrangements to replace this emergency legislation in the coming months. In the meantime, we are reluctantly prepared to facilitate the passage of this legislation as a means to ensure compliance and facilitate the broader reopening of pubs in a fortnight. There are some thoughtful amendments to work through on Committee Stage, most of which we are prepared to support. However, we already know this process is effectively a charade, as the Government has no intention of giving any consideration to them.

Before finishing, I will briefly reference the idea of hysteria. We should be clear that there has been no hysteria in the Chamber this afternoon. Like Senator Ward, I was struck by some of the quite bizarre statements made in the Dáil last week by a minority of so-called populist politicians very much on the right wing of the spectrum. It is a concern as there seems to be a conflation of ideas and a kind of anti-State, anti-mask and anti-immigrant movement. Sinn Féin will be steadfast in opposing that level of hysteria and it is regrettable that we had to see that hysteria in the Dáil last week. Sinn Féin will support this Bill, although we are very disappointed with today's process.

Vincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I thank the Minister for finding the time to address us in the House this afternoon. The context of this emergency legislation is very important. The first sentence of the Bill states: "An Act to make exceptional provision, in the public interest and having regard to the manifest and grave risk to human life and public health posed by the spread of the disease known as Covid-19". Those powers, to be candid, are extensive.Section 3(1) of the Bill states: "Any member, whether in uniform or not, may enter without a warrant any relevant premises at any time and there make such inspection, examination, observation and enquiry as he or she may think proper". We should make no mistake about it - these are extensive powers. I welcome what the Minister said in the House this afternoon in respect of the intention behind the Act and that powers will only be invoked on the basis of enforcement as a last resort. However, they will soon be on the Statute Book and I am hoping that members of An Garda Síochána will be fully trained. The general secretary of the Garda representative body recently expressed concern about their understanding and the legislative import of their duties. Perhaps that is for another day in terms of the most appropriate place in which to make the comment. I feel those concerns should go directly to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister in the first instance. Notwithstanding that, Garda training is at the heart of this and the gardaí have to be brought up to speed very quickly.

A few weeks ago we had a publicised, attempted illegal eviction in Dublin city. It transpired that there was no determination from the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, nor was there a court order, yet members of the Garda found themselves in the middle of that eviction and actually entered the private dwelling in question. I wrote to the Commissioner about it. I want to make it clear that we are very grateful to the Garda, especially in a pandemic, for its tremendous, heroic work to protect us in these unprecedented times. We cannot thank the Garda often enough for that. People are prone to mistakes but this is an example where members of the Garda are not fully appreciating and understanding their duties in certain circumstances. Arriving at what seems to be an eviction, they are indirectly and inadvertently aiding and abetting an illegal act. The Policing Authority spoke on that incident two weeks ago. It intervened and came out with a nice statement saying "we are only there to keep the peace". However, they are arriving and giving credence to what could be an illegal eviction by observing and supervising it. In the case of the incident a few weeks ago, which was higher on the scale of a lack of understanding of their role, gardaí actually involved themselves in the illegal eviction and entered a private dwelling.

In 95% of those evictions the tenant is served with the notice and leaves. However, in the 5% of cases where the tenant refuses to leave, unregulated people in uniform with sunglasses, or bailiffs or whoever it may be, should not force an eviction on foot of a possession order. They should return to the court and say that the order is not being adhered to. Then there might be an issue of attaching and committing the person who is in breach of a court order. At that stage only should the forces of law and order have a legal role to play in such evictions. They should not be there at the outset when there is not even a termination order or a court order. I know they are doing it with the best of intentions but it is something that has been going on for years. I believe there is a misunderstanding of the actual law and the Garda is at times finding itself in places where it may not want to be. It is not in accordance with law.

I welcome the fact that there is a sunset clause in respect of the legislation in section 17. That should allay fears, despite the extensive powers that the Legislature is giving to An Garda Síochána. I note that during the debate in the Lower House, the Minister reassured Members that there will be no renewal without a resolution of both the Lower and the Upper House. There will be no automatic rolling over unless there is a resolution from both Houses to extend what are wide-ranging powers. I welcome the contribution by Sinn Féin's Senator Gavan calling out hysterical comments made in discussions of this Bill in the Lower House and identifying this as populism. We must always be on our guard against populism from any direction, be it the extreme right, the centre or the left. I concur with Senator Ward's view that there was some scaremongering about the Bill. The dwelling expressly enjoys special protection in the Constitution as a place of repose in which no one should have anything to fear. I take Senator Keogan's point expressing concern about what happened yesterday as reported in a newspaper of record. I did not get a chance to read about it yet but that would be a cause of concern for me too.

Taken in the round, this legislation is draconian in a sense but it is also proportionate and necessary. It will be a catalyst in the context of providing the vast majority of publicans with a roadmap to get their businesses up and running again. Pubs are so much more than premises licensed to serve drink. They are social nerve centres, as one Senator stated. They are also the heartbeat and headquarters of communities and are availed of in so many ways. Pubs often allow essential community meetings to take place free of charge. For some people, especially those in rural areas, they are vitally important to maintaining connectivity, morale and wellness. The Green Party will be supporting the emergency legislation, but we emphasise that we welcome the sunset clause.

Eileen Flynn (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for taking the time to come here and listen to our concerns about the Bill. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If I had not learned the importance of these social connections from living in rural Ireland for the past two years, as a Traveller woman I would probably not be so supportive of the pubs reopening. Publicans are not always very nice to the Traveller community. However, I will do the right thing and support their reopening on 21 September.

I live in Donegal and I support the reopening of rural pubs, but I have some fears around this Bill. I refer to people living in apartments above pubs. If there are six people living in a residence above a pub, how will they be affected by the provisions of the Bill? If possible, I would also like the Minister's word that the Traveller community will not be impacted upon by the rules relating to gatherings of six people in houses. Even though I am a Senator, last night I was in a house with ten people who are all members of my family. That is how the Traveller people live. I was not breaking any rules or regulations. How do we protect people from the Traveller community living on halting sites and other ethnic minority groups with big families?

I would also like a discussion on how discrimination and racism affects the pre-booking of pubs. If more than six Traveller people are looking to enter a pub, can the Minister guarantee that they will not be discriminated against because they are members of the Traveller community? It is great to reopen pubs and support publicans and young people who have jobs. I have seen that especially in Ardara in County Donegal. At the weekend, I went out for something to eat. I could see the sense of community and what pubs bring to communities, especially in light of the level of mental health difficulties among younger and older people in Ireland.My husband does not drink and he regularly went to the pub before Covid. While I support the pubs, I want to be sure that people will not be discriminated against and that there will be fair access for people from the Traveller community, Roma people and people of colour.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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That concludes the lead group spokespersons. All other spokespersons have five minutes. I call Senator Seery Kearney.

Mary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and address the requirement to legislate to put these powers in the hands of An Garda Síochána. In this most unusual time, we must remember that the virus - not publicans, the gardaí, the public or even the Government - is the enemy. These legislative provisions are brought about to embellish the State's armoury in fighting the virus. I believe they are proportionate and temporary.

We observed a bacchanalian scene at one pub which was circulated on social media. It was to our great surprise that there was an inability and impotence in our ability and that of the gardaí to respond. For that reason, this is a necessary provision at this time. I welcome the graduated sanction commensurate with the degree of carry-on that presents itself to the gardaí and to which they are required to respond.

I sincerely hope these powers will not require use but their existence serves as a deterrent. We police by consent. For us to continue to be successful, we must continue to do so with buy-in to the guidelines as many have noted. Should the powers be used, we should stress that it is for a very small, exceptional number of publicans who are not adhering to the requirements. It is for them and members of the public who engage in activity on their premises that a sanction is necessary. I am glad the measures are temporary and I hope they do not need to be renewed or extended.

I hope that having these powers in place will reinforce, support and give further impetus to the reopening of the remaining pubs on 21 September. It is necessary and urgent that those involved with these so-called "wet pubs" get back to earning their livelihoods and supporting their families. I have received calls from people in my local area who are fearful of gatherings in garages where big televisions have been erected. If socialising or gatherings can occur in premises that are supervised and subject to legislation and guidelines, we are all safer. It is important to emphasise the good working relationship between the gardaí and publicans, which is not adversarial and should be maintained. This additional power does not suddenly pit gardaí against publicans. Publicans are put in an invidious position when they have to deal with the frustrations of customers. When there is a lack of co-operation on the part of belligerent customers, publicans turn to the gardaí. Gardaí have told me that this excellent relationship will continue and that their support of publicans will not be undermined or otherwise affected by this Bill. The public has a duty to respond in kind.

As an employment lawyer who has been instructed by unions, I will address some of Senator Gavan's comments. I also heard the radio reports of the plight of workers in meat factories.Certainly, I agree that it was harrowing. However, I disagree that there is a need for emergency legislation on their behalf. We have an Unfair Dismissals Act that does not require the 12-month threshold of service in instances where somebody is threatened with dismissal for trade union membership, race, religion or otherwise. Wearing any of my previous hats, I would relish the opportunity, and I have no doubt that there are groups and solicitors who have stepped forward, to assist in what is a horrible bullying situation. However, it is isolated and there is no need for emergency legislation for that.

I welcome and support these measures.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister and I will support the Bill, but reluctantly. It is a measure that should never have been required. I do not know what has happened since this Government was formed but for some peculiar reason it appears to be losing more and more of the public support that the last Government had. The last Government was hanging on by its fingernails after the general election while we awaited the formation of a Government, yet it had the confidence of all the people all of the time. In recent weeks the mixed messages that have been emerging have left everybody confused. The number of people who say to me, "The Government has no bloody clue what it is doing, so I am going to do my own thing anyway", has led to a need to start considering statutory instruments and emergency legislation, and we are tucking things into emergency legislation that should never have been introduced under the cover of Covid-19.

I listened to Antoinette Cunningham, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and her concerns about the way in which legislation is being drafted. Could the Minister reassure me that in drafting this legislation she sat down with the AGSI, the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the superintendents and asked them how the powers they already have are meeting their needs with respect to dealing with Covid-19 and what they need in legislation? We need legislation that has teeth and is capable of doing the job we want it to do. We do not want to publish legislation for the hell of it. We also want Ministers to liaise with each other before they go on national media so they have the same story all the time. It makes it difficult for this Minister if another Minister is saying something different from what she says. Even if the difference is only a slight nuance, it causes concern in the public domain. We must take that on board.

I have always believed that the rural pubs got a raw deal. If one went to some of the rural pubs in my home town of Galway and out into Connemara and in my wife's home place in Kilkenny, one would be lucky to find four or five people in them on any day. Social distancing was never a problem because people all sat in their respective corners. The problem is the urban pubs that have no interest in their colleague publicans or in the Government's efforts in public health. They are grabbing what they can. I was on holidays in a certain part of the country and my five year old granddaughter said to me: "Grandad, we cannot go in there because there is no social distance". A five year old could tell me that people were inside abusing the public health. The people who were in there were happy in themselves. They did not give a continental damn - they were having a night out and to hell with everybody else.

I was delighted to hear the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, say that we are now talking about living with this condition rather than fighting it. We cannot beat Covid-19. The best brains in the world cannot do it, so we are learning to live with it. That is the important thing into the future. We need to close down the greedy publicans who want to pack their pubs. They are not doing anybody a service. However, there is another thing we must do. I have watched Members of the Dáil and of this House stand up and demand that we allow more people to attend this, that or the other. The last Government was led by the science. It listened to the scientists and it implemented what the scientists were saying. For God's sake, let us get back to that stage.Let us start listening to the scientists and obeying or agreeing with what they are trying to do. It is in all of our interests to so do. I fully support what the Minister is trying to do but I ask her, when she goes go back to the Cabinet, to advocate for having one voice telling one story. There should be clear and simple rules for everybody.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Is deas an rud é go bhfuil mé ábalta cúpla focal a rá ar an plé seo. As we get into the real debate, we can see how concerned everybody is and how all Senators are linked in to the reality that we are in the middle of a pandemic. That was not the case during the debate on the Order of Business. The pandemic is not just an issue for Ireland, it is an issue for the world. I am glad that Senator Craughwell is now supporting the Bill.

I welcome the Minister to the House and commend her on her work on the Bill, but to a certain extent she contradicted herself. I make that point in a friendly manner because we have a very good working relationship. She spoke about the rogue pubs. The very reason we are here today is that publicans in my county, Roscommon, which the Minister knows well, and other counties have told me that they have kept to the law, been good and are very concerned about public health. They told me, as a legislator, to come into the House and to work with my party, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Green Party in order to bring in legislation to deal with the rogue pubs. I count on one hand the number of rogue pubs in County Roscommon. There are only four or five of them, a very small number, but those people have enraged other publicans.

We should get rid of the phrase "wet pubs". I do not know who invented it. I worked in my cousin's pub for many years and I worked in other pubs while I was in college. The only time I ever saw a wet pub was when a radiator burst. It is a crazy use of language that somebody has brought in. That is an aside.

We must realise that the pandemic was easier to handle during its first three or four months because every Member of this House and many medical professionals believed that it would have disappeared by August or September. What has happened in the meantime? We have discovered that some of the medical professionals disagree with each other. Some of the most eminent medical people in the world cannot get to the bottom of the pandemic.

This is unquestionably the biggest challenge with which all governments and parliamentarians in proper democracies face. Members who state that we must live with the pandemic are correct. I, like the Minister, Senator Seery Kearney and most Members of the House - there are some eminent lawyers among them who will dissect the Bill inside out and are far better able to address the issue than I am - know that the reality is that things are changing from week to week. That is a challenge for everybody. The leaders, deputy leaders and health ministers of every country in the world have a significant burden on their shoulders when they go to bed at night and when they wake up in the morning. The reality of Covid is that people are dying and getting sick. Unfortunately, there were three deaths yesterday in Ireland. Do the people who state that Covid is not a threat to our health, communities and families, who tell us not to wear a mask and who demonstrate in the most appalling way realise what has happened to families in this country and across the world?

Some people may refer to the Bill as draconian legislation but I do not believe it is. We could use the word "draconian" to describe the virus. Of course, the longer it goes on, the more likely people are to lose patience.They say that they cannot continue and that we need to get our pubs reopened, go back to our football matches and so on but personal responsibility on the part of everyone, both inside and outside this House, from families and communities must be the number one priority. We all have a responsibility here. When very eminent medics, many of them brilliant people, are disagreeing with each other on radio and television, what are ordinary people to think? What are they to think when they hear such disagreements? There is confusion everywhere and that gives rise to massive challenges.

As Senator Seery Kearney said, the enemy is the virus. There is a sunset clause in this Bill. I know the Minister and most members of the Government personally and I know that they do not want to introduce draconian legislation, but we must act now.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for being with us today to go through this important and necessary Bill. My colleague, Senator Murphy, outlined the necessity of implementing legislation to ensure that we live in as safe a society as possible. The numbers are concerning, with 30,164 cases and 1,781 deaths to date. We are all very concerned at the number of cases to date and at the daily increase in new cases we are seeing, particularly here in Dublin. It is only right that we introduce a long term plan for living alongside Covid-19. The most important issue for society, now that we have reopened our schools, is to keep them open. We also want to see people getting back to work. We want to protect lives and livelihoods. We are engaged in a very delicate balancing act, with the overarching aim of ensuring the health and safety of our population, particularly the most vulnerable members. We must try to effect as much compliance as possible so that we can continue to reopen society.

The measures in this Bill are proportionate and, most importantly, temporary. Let us hope that the powers provided will be used judiciously. Notwithstanding the public health concerns, we must bear in mind those in the pub trade who have suffered a huge blow to their livelihood over the past six months. Indeed, coming from Kildare, which has suffered greatly in the last few weeks, I am particularly conscious of the hammer blow dealt by Covid-19 to our pub industry. We have 179 pubs in our county, many of which are family owned and some are run by more than one generation of the same family. Up to 400 families have been impacted by pub closures. As of today, pubs have been closed for 178 days. The news that our pubs are going to reopen on 21 September is very welcome. Many of the pubs in our country have been driven into mortgage default and are at real risk of not reopening.

Our pubs are the hubs of our communities. They are an integral part of the social fabric of communities and towns. For many, pubs are a vital meeting point. In many ways, they are also part of our rites of passage. We were talking earlier about young people not having the same rites of passage in the context of leaving school. I remember going for my first drink with my dad to a family-owned pub in Rathangan, Fullam's, and what a rite of passage that was. So many people have not had the opportunity to have that rite of passage. People have not had the chance to meet neighbours, to have social conversations or to have small meetings. The reopening will be very welcome indeed but I hope it is too late for the whole pub trade.

It is important to remember that the vast majority of pub owners have been compliant with existing restrictions.This legislation is only needed for the tiny minority who do not observe public health guidelines. As I said earlier, I have huge empathy for pub owners. I am in favour of this legislation, as are the pub owners, having spoken to many of them over recent days. They themselves believe that the Garda needed additional enforcement powers to deal with breaches of the Covid-19 regulations. We have all heard of shebeens operating and people gathering and travelling to where they know drink would be available and where we know that people have not been observing social distancing. This is completely wrong. It is only right and fair that those who are operating within the law know there will be consequences for those who break it.

I do not believe that pubs have received the necessary supports they needed. They needed to have more supports given to them. It is unfair that the so-called wet pubs have been put into the same bracket as nightclubs.

We have to live with Covid-19. We must take personal responsibility and we have to trust people and situations. We must be careful of not going down the road of over-regulation.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank all Senators for their comments and especially for their broad support for the legislation. I did not say it at the outset but, to be clear, I am very grateful to all Senators for their support and for allowing the Bill to go through and bypass the pre-legislative scrutiny. I understand and fully appreciate that this is not the way we should be passing legislation. Unfortunately, this is the second time I have brought legislation in a short space of time in this manner. I do not want to be doing it this way but both of these pieces of legislation are very relevant to the current situation and there are time constraints, particularly given there is a sunset clause on this for 9 November. I appreciate the Senators' efforts on this and their support in waiving the pre-legislative scrutiny. We have not brought forward this legislation lightly. It is not anti-pub legislation, as some people have suggested while maybe not in this House. As someone who has spent a third of my life working in pubs in my own family pub or while in college and beyond college, it is not something I would do.

This legislation is here to support publicans, as all Senators have outlined, and especially those who have been compliant and who put a huge amount of work, effort, time and money into making sure they are compliant. This legislation looks at certain small numbers of publicans who are not adhering, who are bending the rules and who are breaking the Covid-19 regulations. The legislation is to ensure that where people do that, there are penalties.

Senator Craughwell asked if we had engaged with An Garda Síochána. The Garda itself has said there is a deficiency where people are breaking the rules in terms of gardaí being able to come in to ensure there is enforcement and compliance. This is why we are doing this. Obviously it is done with the engagement and support of An Garda Síochána.

I will address some of the concerns around the sunset clause. I am aware there is an amendment to this later. We put in 9 November, which is based on the fact that other regulation finishes on that date. On the suggestion that we would not allow an ability to extend that, given the uncertain times we are in and that we do not know what will happen next week, never mind in two months, it is important that we allow the potential for a rollover, but only having gone through both Houses, being debated in both Houses, and with the permission of both Houses. That needs to be very clear.

There are concerns and perhaps questions around the fact that some instruments are guidelines and some are law, and that some are penal and some are not. I understand that this can be confusing for people. There is a very clear outline in the statutory instruments as to what is penal and what is not. I understand that some measures that were guidelines have now become penal. Senator Bacik mentioned the provision of penal measures for face coverings while on public transport and in shops. That had not been the case but, unfortunately, while many people have been wearing face coverings when asked, many others were not. When introducing the penal measures, we have seen compliance shoot up to between 90% and 100%. These penal provisions are for a reason and it is not because we are trying to catch people out. We do see, however, that where those measures are brought into place, compliance increases. In the past week we saw non-compliance in the pubs going down.Perhaps that is because we have been debating this very publicly and publicans know that these measures are potentially coming in as well. There has been mention of meat plants and factories. I think Senator Seery Kearney addressed that in her own contribution. There is legislation in place and a huge amount of work has gone on between the relevant authorities. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working not just with meat plants but also with food production plants across the country to ensure their premises are safe and the work can be carried out in a safe environment. On direct provision, from the very outset a vast array of measures were put in place, everything from cocooning for those over 65 to testing and the ability for people to self-isolate where they have tested positive or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. As of this Saturday, I am informed by the HSE that in direct provision centres 7,500 people, residents and staff, will be tested initially and then tested again in two weeks' time. This is to ensure we are working with and protecting them as much as possible.

Senator Keogan mentioned the provisions around entering the home. To give absolute clarity and assurance, there is nothing in this that would provide for or allow a member of An Garda Síochána to enter somebody's home. It is always the case that where they are invited or admitted into a home, or where there is a search warrant or arrest warrant, they can certainly enter. That is not being addressed in this Bill. I am not aware of the article to which the Senator refers so I do not know at what stage of the pandemic that was or what was used to convict them. I will certainly look into it.

The sunset clause was mentioned. I would like to join Senator Flynn in acknowledging World Suicide Prevention Day. It is a very important day and I am glad she mentioned it. There should be no impact by this legislation on anybody in a discriminatory way. Everybody is going to be and should be treated the same, whether that is going into a pub, booking a table for six people or where a member of An Garda Síochána is coming into a pub and engaging with citizens. Everybody should and will be afforded the same treatment. If a mistake is made and somebody is in breach of regulations or the law, in the first instance the Garda should always engage with that person. It might be an accident and the person might not realise he or she is in breach of the law. That will be the case for absolutely every member of our community and our society. Where there are ten people living in a home, a large family or people living over a pub, once it is a family unit, that number is allowed. We are asking and encouraging people, while it is not a penal provision, that outside of the people living in the house they have no more than six people from three other households within their home and no more than 15 outside. I really would ask that people adhere to that. I am afraid I do not know who came up with the term "wet pubs" but I agree that it is not the best term.

I thank Senators for their support of this legislation. I anticipate that it will be used in very limited circumstances and very sparingly over the coming weeks. The fact that the pubs are opening is very positive. It will create an outlet for a lot of people who have not been able to get out to enjoy themselves and engage with friends, particularly those who are living on their own. That can be very positive. However, we have to remind ourselves that we are still in the middle of the pandemic. We need to make sure there are rules and regulations and that for those who breach them, there is a mechanism by which they can be held accountable. This legislation will help us to do that.

I apologise that I cannot stay for all of the debate. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is going to take my place.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.