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Government scraps plans to fine people who gather to drink alcohol outside

A memo brought to Cabinet on Tuesday was opposed by some Ministers, prompting a U-turn.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin (PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (PA)

The Government has backtracked on plans to introduce fines for people who gather outside to drink alcohol.

A memo was brought to Cabinet on Tuesday by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly outlining new enforcement measures.

It came after videos that circulated on social media showing large crowds gathering at pubs offering takeaway service, without adhering to social distancing, prompted public outrage.

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People pass the Auld Dubliner pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar (Brian Lawless/PA)

People pass the Auld Dubliner pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar (Brian Lawless/PA)

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People pass the Auld Dubliner pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar (Brian Lawless/PA)

But the proposal to introduce fines was abandoned amid opposition within the Cabinet from the Green Party and Fine Gael.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who had strongly condemned the scenes at the weekend, said the Government would instead work with Gardai on enforcing existing measures.

He told the Dail on Tuesday: “Due to the hard work of people and the sacrifice across the country, we’ve seen significant progress. And that’s significant for our hospitals. It’s also significant for keeping our schools open.

“That’s all been enabled by the restrictions we’ve brought it and it’s been enabled by the sacrifices of the people. They have sacrificed a lot.

“It’s juxtaposed with the scenes of last weekend and the previous week where large crowds were gathering outside take away facilities, it’s problematic in terms of the overall messaging and maintaining confidence in the sacrifices that people have made. We need to acknowledge that.

“And that’s why enforcement is important, of existing laws and we will have further engagement with the Gardai in relation to that. I think the key point is that issue needs to be highlighted.”

Eleven further Covid-19 linked deaths were reported in Ireland on Tuesday, along with an additional 366 confirmed cases of the virus.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said on Tuesday that fines were a knee-jerk reaction, and called for common sense.

She said: “If it’s going to be a business of issuing fines for people drinking pints on the street then what do we do about everyone who’s meeting up and drinking coffees?

“I think there needs to be a bit of common sense here. I think our better course of action, instead of taking out the big stick and talking about fines, is just to speak to people’s common sense.”

Concerns were raised at the weekend after videos and photos circulated on social media showed people congregating and drinking alcohol on the streets in Dublin and Cork.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin has condemned the scenes of people drinking at the weekend (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has condemned the scenes of people drinking at the weekend (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin has condemned the scenes of people drinking at the weekend (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Martin said he was “extremely concerned” by the scenes on the streets of people not adhering to social-distancing measures, adding that it puts the progress being made in the fight against coronavirus into “jeopardy”.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn branded those involved as a “selfish minority” who were putting the safety of others at risk.

But he dismissed calls from publicans suggesting the way to resolve the problem of people consuming takeaway pints on the streets was to reopen pubs and facilitate drinking in more controlled environments.

“Just because we’ve seen scenes like we did on the streets on Saturday night does not mean that the answer to that is to open up pubs,” said Dr Glynn.

The weekend drinking scenes came as Dr Glynn and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan are warning about a recent upturn in case numbers after recent progress in driving down infection rates.

Mr Martin expressed his annoyance at what had unfolded in Dublin and Cork.

“I’m extremely concerned and very annoyed about it,” Mr Martin told Red FM on Monday.

“I think it flies in the face of what’s acceptable in terms of adherence to the guidelines and regulations, because we all have to work to try and get the incidence of the virus down.”

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