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CLAMP DOWN Off-licences could be forced to shut early to end house parties

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Off-licence opening hours may be significantly reduced under Government plans aimed at clamping down on house parties and large social gatherings.

The move was discussed at a specially convened Cabinet meeting on the Covid-19 pandemic where ministers agreed to impose level-three restrictions on the entire country.

Three ministers raised the prospect of reducing off-licence opening hours.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys was the first to raise to issue and was supported by Justice Minister Helen McEntee and junior minister Hildegarde Naughton.

Ms Humphreys’ Monaghan constituency has seen a recent spike in Covid-19 and on Monday had the second highest number of new cases per 100,000 people in the country.

Ms Naughton is a Galway minister where a large gathering of students drinking in the city recently gained national headlines.

The minister was furious about the street party in the Spanish Arch and said something should be done about the role of off licences.

It was noted at the meeting on Monday that reducing off-licence opening hours may also help pubs and restaurants as people may be more likely to go to regulated premises rather than house parties.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris yesterday suggested gardaí may arrive to an area where there is a house party.

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Commissioner Drew Harris at Garda HQ, Phoenix Park, Photo: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Commissioner Drew Harris at Garda HQ, Phoenix Park, Photo: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

RollingNews.ie

Commissioner Drew Harris at Garda HQ, Phoenix Park, Photo: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

“There is a constitutional protection of the home,” he said. “Having gardaí positioned outside your home during a house party will really dampen the mood.” Gardaí are today due to staff 132 checkpoints on main routes nationwide to ensure the public are complying with level-three lockdown guidelines to remain in their counties.

Commissioner Harris warned of traffic jams and reduced traffic flow on motorways as he announced Operation Fanacht.

More than 2,000 officers will be on Covid-19 related duty, working a 12-hour roster introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, with the cost estimated to hit €15m in overtime if the operation continues to the end of the year.

However, the Government has not given the force any extra powers to enforce the guidelines.

Instead, gardaí are operating a policing-by-consent model, with people urged to adhere to the guidelines to protect themselves and those around them from Covid-19.

“Policing is an extension of good citizenship,” the commissioner said at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

Officers at the stops will be focusing on ‘the three Es’: engage, educate and encourage.

While the Commissioner admitted that a motorist will be able to continue on, even if stopped and asked to turn back by officers, he said it would be “a foolish choice”. He said often the sort of people who do this “have made poor choices elsewhere” and could be dealt with using other powers.

Mr Harris said the focus will also continue to be on community policing, as well as dealing with organised crime during the period of level-three restrictions across the country.

He suggested extra powers were not needed for now, pointing out that of the hundreds of thousands of stops made during the last lockdown, special powers then afforded to gardaí were used only 342 times.

However, yesterday, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) called for “immediate and urgent clarification” on Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s comments on Monday night to “step up measures to increase compliance” around Covid-19 public health regulations.

“Our members will be policing level-three restrictions nationwide. We have to manage Government expectation alongside public expectation yet we don’t know what’s expected of us and what powers we will actually have,” said Antoinette Cunningham, the general secretary of the middle-ranking officers’ group.

“On behalf of our members, AGSI is seeking guidance on any amended enforcement measures.”

The association said it would like to see the continuation of policing by consent and reiterated its appeal to the public to take personal responsibility.

Ms Cunningham said the AGSI was “surprised that in developing the Living with Covid Plan that enforcement measures for each stage of the plan were not developed, and therefore managing public expectation about what can happen at each stage”.

Herald