THE Cabinet has decided against legislation granting gardai more powers to break up house parties amid fears it would be impossible to manage — and lead to a raft of High Court cases.
But the Oireachtas will move quickly next week to push through tough new measures granting cops the power to shut down rogue pubs that do not serve food or maintain social distancing on the premises.
Under new legislation, gardai will be allowed to issue a compliance notice to a pub owner asking them to address any issues there.
Cops will have the option to shut the pub for a day and, if the premises did not shut, the bar’s owners would face a fine of up to €2,500 or a six-month prison sentence.
Gardai will also be able to apply to the District Court for an Emergency Closure Order, which could shutter a pub for up to 30 days.
Senior sources within the force told the Irish Sun that gardai feared new laws allowing them to enter house parties could lead to cases being brought before the High Court.
At present, gardai can only enter private dwellings if they have received a warrant from a District Court judge.
But they worry that enforcing any new legislation aimed at private dwellings will prove a “difficult task”.
One senior officer told us: “People need to remember that house parties and pubs are two completely different scenarios.
“People in house parties are private citizens and there’s a real concern if gardai enter private dwellings it could end up in the High Court.”
They added: “It’s possible people could also use human rights legislation to oppose the decision of gardai to enter their properties.”
At a briefing last night, the Government said there are no immediate plans to reopen drink-only hostelries and substantial meals will still have to be served.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said: “The vast majority of premises over the last number of months have been compliant and this is the manner we want to continue working with premises or licence holders.
“But what we have seen . . . in the last number of weeks over the summer is an increase in those who are not complying — about 165 breaches, and in a small number of incidences where they have been repeatedly in breach of Covid regulations.”
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar also announced a €16million package to help the pubs sector — which was immediately branded “crumbs” by fuming publicans.
Asked if pubs that don’t serve food will open before the year is out, Varadkar said: “I can’t say that with any certainty.
“What I can say is that we are now the only country in Europe in which wet pubs are not allowed to open, albeit with restrictions.
“I think that sector has shown itself able over the past couple of months to implement guidelines.
“The number of clusters in restaurants and gastro pubs has been very small.
“I’d like to see them be given a chance that they can do that, but of course there are two things that we need to get right first — guidance that we can agree with NPHET and secondly I think we need to see cases stabilise and fall for all the obvious reasons.”
Gardai uncovered 26 potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations in pubs and restaurants last week.
In all of the cases from August 17 to August 23, people were found to be consuming alcohol with no evidence of food consumption or receipts showing no food being sold.
The total number of breaches discovered by gardai since Operation Navigation began now stands at 165.
On Thursday, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn confirmed that pubs would not be reopening on Monday.
He said: “Given the current epidemiological situation and given the measures that are in place, last week nationally we felt that really we weren’t in a position to reopen pubs at this point.”
Labour’s Justice spokesman Brendan Howlin described plans to make it an offence for more than six visitors to gather in a private home as “unenforceable and draconian”, but welcomed moves to crack down on dodgy boozers.
Speaking to RTE’s Drivetime, Senator Michael McDowell said: “To jail or fine people who have more than six people in their homes, or for gardai to be able to invade people’s homes, you would have to have sound legal basis to show its a proportional interference with their lives.”
The Oireachtas is likely to move promptly to grant gardai the power to shut rogue boozers and it will top the legislative agenda when the Dail resumes on Wednesday.
Under the current guidelines, pubs must serve a substantial meal costing not less than €9 to…
Read More: Coronavirus in Ireland – Cabinet decide against legislation for house parties