Irish human rights commission criticises government’s pandemic restrictions – dpa international


DUBLIN — The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) on Thursday accused the government of having “persistently blurred the boundary between legal requirements and public health guidance in its Covid-19 response.”

In a report co-authored with academics from Trinity College Dublin, the commission said though “core pandemic measures” were  “generally proportionate and justified in light of the scale of the public health emergency,” parliamentary oversight was “lacking.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), a once-obscure advisory body that has become a household name in the wake of the pandemic, has acted as “de facto decision maker,” the commission reported, leading to a risk that public health advice “captures the whole decision-making process.”

On Tuesday the government announced that a third lockdown – imposed in late December ahead of what became a record-breaking spike in novel coronavirus deaths and case numbers – will be extended until at least April 5.

While not giving any end date for restrictions, Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheál Martin said “the end is in truly in sight,” citing a vaccination program that has otherwise been criticized for being too slow.

The human rights commission, an independent public body that reports to Ireland’s legislature, said that the government’s “making and presentation of regulations raises serious rule-of-law concerns.”

Sinéad Gibney, IHREC chief commissioner, criticized “the systems that implement and scrutinize these decisions,” while Trinity College’s Oran Doyle accused the government of blurring the lines between public health advice and legal obligations.

Ireland’s police, An Garda Síochána, announced last week around 8,000 fines had been issued for alleged breaches of the restrictions. The commission said on Thursday that “public health guidance” should not be enforced “as if it were law.”

Ireland’s pandemic restrictions are the harshest in the European Union, according to a University of Oxford database. Non-essential travel is limited to within 5 kilometres of a person’s home, with so-called non essential retail forced to close. Restaurants cannot open, most pubs have been shut since March last year, aside from a few days during autumn, and worshippers cannot attend religious services aside from small crowds permitted at weddings and funerals.

Airline Ryanair last year lost a court challenge to the government’s travel restrictions. A case filed against the worship ban was adjourned for a fourth time this week.

The forced closure of businesses pushed unemployment up to 27 per cent in January, according to the Central Statistics Office, which on Thursday published a survey showing that 60 per cent of people felt their mental health had been adversely affected by the pandemic.

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