Police will not be able to order a person to immediately return home if they are simply walking the streets alone or with someone from their own household under a new regulation published late on Christmas Eve.
The announcement of a “curfew” caused confusion among some after Health Minister Robin Swann said the PSNI would be given additional powers to force people to stay at home.
But the provision on the “power to direct persons home” is limited to those who are “engaged in, or intending to engage in” prohibited activity – is mixing with other households either outside or inside the home.
And police “may only exercise the power” if the officer “considers that it is a necessary and proportionate means of ensuring compliance” with restrictions.
Walking the dog, jogging or going to work, for examples, should not be reasons for the police to interfere beyond asking where someone is going.
A group of people on the street or seen entering a house are among the likely targets of any police scrutiny, a further way of stopping the the staging of parties, particularly on New Year’s Eve.
No specific penalties were published for failure to comply if the police orders a citizen to go home immediately when he or she is not, and has no intention of, breaking the restrictions already in place. Indeed, there are no penalties even if someone did intend to but does not ultimately defy the restrictions.
Following the announcement of more stringent restrictions for the week from December 26 to 12.01am on January 2, the Department of Health said people would be “strongly advised” to stay at home, that it would be guidance.
But after discussion with other members of the Executive, Robin Swann last week said police would be given additional powers “to ensure people abided by the new rules for the Boxing Day lockdown.”