Emergency coronavirus law ‘should be time-limited’ to protect human rights

Emergency coronavirus law 'should be time-limited' to protect human rights

Liam Herrick

The Irish Government’s emergency coronavirus bill should be time-limited or include a “sunset clause”, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said.

The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020 is due to be introduced in the Dáil today.

Barrister Andrew McKeown summarised the provisions of the bill, which include new powers to detain people and ban mass gatherings in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in a piece for Irish Legal News yesterday.

Liam Herrick, ICCL executive director, said: “We are in the midst of a national and international emergency, of the extraordinary sort that necessitates interferences with our rights for the greater public good.

“ICCL supports the Government’s efforts to meet this unprecedented challenge. However, the Government and Oireachtas must act within the Constitution and ensure that any restrictions of rights are proportionate and only as invasive as is necessary to protect public health.

“Our society will return to normal, and when it does, we need to be sure that there has been no permanent erosion of rights, and that no future government could ever abuse legislation introduced to deal with this public health emergency.”

The civil liberties group said Ireland “has a history of extending emergency measures beyond emergency times”, noting that the Special Criminal Court and the Offences Against the State Act both formed part of its response to the Troubles but remained in place today.

ICCL also reiterated its call on the government to take positive steps, in line with its human rights obligations, to protect socially and economically vulnerable populations such as those living in homelessness, the Traveller community, prisoners, and those living in Direct Provision.

Mr Herrick said: “This is a crisis where we must all work together in solidarity to protect the most vulnerable. We believe that by grounding our response on principles and standards of human rights we can ensure the most effective and targeted response to the current crisis.”

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