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Scrutiny needed Former Minister Richard Bruton voices concern over extension of Covid emergency powers

What’s happening here is that every one of these powers seem to be being reinstated even though the conditions have changed”

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Richard Bruton. Picture: Collins

Richard Bruton. Picture: Collins

Richard Bruton. Picture: Collins

Former Minister Richard Bruton has expressed “a little bit of misgiving” about the extension of Covid emergency powers into November.

The Government TD, who is Chairman of Fine Gael, told the Dáil: “We can’t continue to expect people to suspend their disbelief and allow powers to remain without some greater level of scrutiny and evaluation and review of their continuing necessity.”

He warned there was a danger of some in authority “casually applying some of these powers because they are there. Because there mightn’t be the level of scrutiny, that you would slip into a lazy use of exceptional powers.”

He said: “What’s happening here is that every one of these powers seem to be being reinstated even though the conditions have changed.”

Deputies are concerned about some of the implications of the powers that are taken and records must be kept and a review instituted into their use, the former Minister for Education said.

“Some of these powers are truly exceptional. They ban travel on very widespread basis – a very normal right of a citizen. They ban events from occurring, and they permit entry to a person’s dwelling in certain circumstances.

“They provide enforcement powers that are made by regulation and not subjected to the sort of scrutiny we would be used to,” he said.

“There may be some of these powers that are no longer necessary. We have made extraordinary progress and the risks associated with the virus are changing very dramatically.

“The 14-day incidence of the virus at the moment is 0.2 per cent — in other words 99.9pc of Irish people over last 14 days have not been positive for covid and less than 1pc of hospital beds are being occupied by people with covid.”

Half of people had either been vaccinated or inoculated through contracting the virus over the last year, he added.

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The comments from such a senior Government figure surprised Opposition who had lined up to make similar points to Mr Bruton.

The Dublin Bay North TD said: “We need to look more forensically at these powers and to distinguish which ones continue to be necessary.”

He argued the State should be starting to look at more demanding standard or thresholds to be passed if the powers continued to be used.

“There is no doubt that these are really exceptional powers that should only occur in the most exceptional of circumstances.”

But Mr Bruton added: “That’s not to say I believe we should not continue to have these powers at the moment.

“It’s undoubtedly the case that over the course of the summers we will need to ask people to observe restrictions, and will need to have the power, if people refuse to do so, to require that it be done on pain of some sort of penalty.

“But I would ask that, as a democratic House and conscious of the extraordinarily intrusive nature of these powers that we put some protection in.”

He called on the Minister for Health and his colleagues in other Departments, such as Justice, “to design some process of dismantling, so that we can have confidence that there will be no lazy or casual application of exceptional powers just because they remain there.”

He said he was acutely conscious of the task facing the Ministers for Health and Justice, and ministers in other spheres who are party to some of these powers,

But he urged them “to recognise that a balance has to be struck in everything.

“There are costs and impacts: personal, economic and social, to the decisions we make, even at a time when public health is under some stress.”

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