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Harris: New garda powers to enforce compliance restrictions to be used sparingly

People are being discouraged from travelling to holiday locations over the Easter weekend.

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Health Minister Simon Harris signed beefed-up enforcement powers for gardai on Tuesday night (Steve Humphreys/PA)

Health Minister Simon Harris signed beefed-up enforcement powers for gardai on Tuesday night (Steve Humphreys/PA)

Health Minister Simon Harris signed beefed-up enforcement powers for gardai on Tuesday night (Steve Humphreys/PA)

Ireland’s health minister has said he expects gardai to use new powers to ensure compliance with coronavirus restrictions sparingly.

Simon Harris signed the beefed-up regulations on Tuesday night.

He told RTE radio: “We’re expecting it to be used very sparingly.”

It comes amid reports of increasing numbers out in the streets and fears that people may be tempted to disregard social distancing rules over the Easter holiday.

The new regulations will give gardai the power to issue specific fines for breaches and potentially detain people who are refusing to self-isolate.

Gardai had been relying on their existing public order powers since the current strict limitations on movement were ordered by the Government 11 days ago.

The Government had held off signing the regulations, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying he only wanted to do so if “absolutely necessary”.

Mr Harris asked people not to travel to holiday homes this weekend and warned against public complacency about the measures.

“Now is not the time for any complacency whatsoever,” he said. “It is difficult and challenging to stay at home. I’m conscious of parents with kids, particularly children with autism.

“These are big challenges for people but they are not as significant and challenging as the problems we could face if we don’t stay the course.

“We are seeing what is happening with other countries regarding the death toll and we cannot allow that to happen here.”

A special Garda operation will see additional checkpoints on the roads and extra patrols at parks and beauty spots.

The regulations come into operation on Wednesday but expire on Easter Sunday.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Mr Harris said that, while efforts are being stepped up to prevent the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes, they continue to be an area of concern.

“It (the battle) is certainly not being lost but there are pressures in our nursing home sector and they are doing really good work.

“We are also sending in teams of staff to our nursing homes to help supplement their efforts as well.

“I think we need to be clear about a cluster in a nursing home because that means two or more cases. It wouldn’t be unusual that you would see an outbreak of a virus like this in our nursing homes.”

The minister said agency staff are not allowed to move between nursing homes in case they potentially spread the virus and additional protective equipment has been given to nursing home employees.

“There’s a massive amount of work going on in nursing homes – every nursing home should have an infection liaison officer and someone they can link in with strictly in relation to the plan,” he said.

“It is right to point out that a serious concern in our public health battle is in long-term residential settings.”

PA