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PSNI still waiting on new coronavirus laws enforcing stay-at-home order


Police have yet to see the relevant legislation. Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

Police have yet to see the relevant legislation. Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

Police have yet to see the relevant legislation. Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

Police have yet to see regulations around new powers set to be introduced at midnight on Thursday allowing them to curb non-essential travel.

As of midday on Thursday the Executive had not yet presented police with the legislation around new powers - announced by the First Minister on Monday - to allow them to enforce the stay-at-home order.

The legislation is yet to be published.

With just hours to go until the new powers are supposed to be introduced it's understood police are continuing to engage with the Executive, but it could be Friday before an official announcement is made.

Health Minister Robin Swann has said confusion around the new restrictions will be clarified on Thursday.

Under the proposals aiming to stop the spread of coronavirus people will only be allowed to leave home for medical needs, to buy food or to exercise. Those who cannot work from home will also be allowed to leave for their work place.

Police are to be given powers to direct people to return home if they are in contravention of the regulations and can also issue fines starting with a £200 fixed penalty notice. The new rules, the Executive announced, are to come into effect at midnight on Thursday and will be in place until at least February 6.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the fact that police had yet to see the regulations was evidence of ongoing dysfunction at Stormont.

"It's par for the course with this Executive, the ones before Christmas took days to appear," the North Antrim MLA said.

"It is just unacceptable that ministers announce various provisions and then when you go to look and see how they are set out they haven't been produced.

"I'm not surprised and obviously the police can't act on something that isn't stipulated very clearly in black and white.

"It's not exactly confidence building is it?"

Mr Allister said he believed the regulations could still be produced but questioned whether police would have adequate time to act upon them.

"You would have thought it would be a priority for them. Am I surprised? No," he said.

Police have previously come under fire for their interpretation of the regulations during the pandemic.

Last month police were criticised after reports of taxi drivers being told to stop working during curfew in Belfast as they were non essential.

However, police later said they would not take action against taxi drivers.

Police were also criticised for the handling of the funeral of former IRA leader Bobby Storey in west Belfast in June and their actions at Black Lives Matter protests were found to be discriminatory by the Police Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman found that police "failed to balance human rights with the public considerations and requirements of the regulations”.

An Executive meeting scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled due to family bereavements of two ministers.

It is understood the new powers for police will be among the matters discussed at the rescheduled meeting on Friday morning.

The Executive Office, Department of Health and Justice have all been contacted for comment. The PSNI have also been approached.

Mark Lindsay, Chair of the PFNI, said: “Any proposed Regulations need to be properly thought out and laid before the Assembly in the appropriate manner which is clear and unambiguous to both those charged with enforcing them and the general public.

“At present, the anticipated regulations haven’t been laid and as a result there are no legal powers to enforce.

“It’s important to get this right rather than agree something that is deficient or flawed. If a short delay in securing legislative approval means that any potential difficulties or loopholes can be ironed out, then the wait will be prudent and worthwhile.

“I would concur with the messages coming from Stormont and encourage society to listen to the guidance and advice being given and to ensure that enforcement of any new regulations is a very last resort.”

Belfast Telegraph