Representatives of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) and representatives of Mental Health Reform met with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health on 24 May to discuss the impact of the Covid-19 emergency powers on fundamental rights and mental health. ICCL representatives outlined that there should be a rights-impact assessment to determine what Covid-19 restrictions were and were not necessary. They said it should be completed to determine if legislation enabling further restrictions into the future should be renewed.
ICCL representatives suggested that the fundamental right to protest should be permitted provided they are done in small circles and in a safe manner. They stated that “safe protests should have been allowed given the fundamental importance of that to our democracy and especially at a time when so many decisions are being made impacting lives and livelihoods”. Liam Herrick, executive director of the ICCL, said it would be preferable if the Government could set guidelines on how people can exercise their right to protest while also respecting the safety of orders.
ICCL representatives expressed grave concern for the huge expansion of gardaí powers throughout the lockdown period. They outlined that they noted a lack of communication and clarity by the Government of what activities were permitted and not permitted and which would be subjected to fines and how much those fines would be.
ICCL representatives said there should be an “urgent review” of the emergency Covid-19 legislation, which was due to lapse on 9 June however the Seanad passed legislation extending the powers until 9 November. Mr. Herrick said he does not see any justification for the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, retaining unlimited emergency powers when the Government is easing public health restrictions.
Mental Health Reform chief executive Fiona Coyle agreed with the ICCL and she urged the Government to review and repeal emergency powers “to strike a better balance between the need to protect people from Covid-19 and the protection of human rights for those under the Act.” She called for the Mental Health Act to be reformed and for a substantial increase in investment in mental health services to address challenges post-Covid.