knowledge | 14 April 2020 |

COVID-19: New Laws Regulate Non-Essential Travel and Activities

A new law has been introduced empowering gardai (police) to enforce the previously advisory-only public health restrictions on non-essential travel and on people gathering in groups. This new law applies throughout the State from 8 April to 5 May 2020 (already extended once, this may be further extended).

Facilitated by changes made by recent emergency legislation1, the Minister of Health has made Regulations under the Health Act 1947 to give legal effect to public health guidance on non-essential travel and on gatherings of people. The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) Regulations 2020 (as amended3) also confer enforcement powers on members of An Garda Síochána (police).

Scope and Period of Validity

The Regulations apply throughout the State2  and came into effect on Wednesday 8 April 2020. While originally the Regulations were to lapse on Sunday 12 April, their validity
has been extended to 5 May 20203 (the “Applicable Period”). The Applicable Period may be further extended by another order of the Minister.

Public Health Requirements

For the Applicable Period and subject to the important exceptions listed below, the Regulations prohibit every person from leaving his or her place of residence, unless the person has a “reasonable excuse” for doing so.

The principal exceptions to this prohibition are:

  • providing, or assisting in providing, an “essential service” (listed below);
  • travelling to an “essential retail outlet” (listed below), for the person’s own household or for any vulnerable person;
  • obtaining money;
  • attending a medical appointment or obtaining essential medical assistance;
  • exercising (alone or together with any other resident of the person’s home) within a 2km radius of the place of residence;
  • donating blood;
  • attending a funeral of a close family member;
  • fulfilling a legal obligation (such as to attend a summons to court);
  • accessing an essential service (listed below);
  • exercising an access right in respect of a dependent child.

Further, the only permitted gatherings of people outside of their places of residence during the Applicable Period are gatherings that are in exercise of any of the exceptions listed above.

Enforcement Powers

Under the Regulations, it is an offence:

  • for a person to leave his or her place of residence, unless the person has a “reasonable excuse” for doing so or the occasion is one of the permitted exceptions (above); and
  • to refuse to comply with an instruction of a garda who is enforcing this restriction on non-essential travel. 

The potential penalties for this offence are a maximum Class C fine (up to €2,500) and / or imprisonment for a term up to six months.

The Garda Commissioner has been reported as saying that the new powers will be held in reserve for circumstances in which a person does not comply voluntarily with the public health guidance.

Civil Law Considerations

The Regulations should also be seen in the context of potential statutory civil liability of employers and others for harm caused through the employer’s failure to apply public health requirements in respect of an infectious disease (see our related briefing, available here).

“Essential Services” and “Essential Retail Services”

These concepts are listed in the 10-page schedules to the Regulations (for a complete and detailed list, click here). Key categories are highlighted here.

Essential Services

These include (synopsis only):

  1. Agriculture, horticulture, forestry, fishing, animal welfare and related services.
  2. Manufacturing.
  3. Supply, repair and installation of machinery and equipment.
  4. Electricity, gas, water, sewage and waste management.
  5. Construction and development (including the construction and development of essential COVID-19-related health projects, the repair, maintenance and construction of critical road, rail and utility infrastructure and essential or emergency maintenance and repair services to businesses and places of residence).
  6. Wholesale and retail trade (including the operation of essential retail outlets and associated wholesale and distribution services).
  7. Transport, storage and communications.
  8. Accommodation and food services (including the operation of hotels providing essential accommodation (including accommodation for homeless persons and persons in need of temporary accommodation due to the COVID-19 crisis and the provision of food or beverage takeaway or delivery services).
  9. Information and communications (including the production and publication of newspapers and of television and radio programmes and the provision of data centre services and related services).
  10. Financial and legal activities (including financial, insurance and banking services (including post office and credit union services) provided by a financial services provider; accounting services; audit services; and legal services provided by practising solicitors and practising barristers).
  11. Professional, scientific and technical activities.
  12. Rental and leasing activities (cars and bicycles).
  13. Administrative and support activities
  14. Certain services relating to public administration, emergency services and defence (including gardai, prison services and the Defence Forces).
  15. Human health and social work activities (including hospital services, pharmacy services and emergency dental services).
  16. Community and voluntary services.

Essential Retail Services

These include (synopsis only):

  1. Outlets selling food or beverages on a takeaway basis.
  2. Outlets selling products necessary for the essential upkeep and functioning of places of residence and businesses.
  3. Pharmacies.
  4. Outlets selling health, medical or orthopaedic goods in a specialised outlet.
  5. Fuel service stations and heating fuel providers.
  6. Outlets selling essential items for the health and welfare of animals.
  7. Laundries and dry-cleaners.
  8. Banks, post offices and credit unions.
  9. Outlets selling safety supplies (including work-wear apparel, footwear and personal protective equipment).
  10. Hardware outlets and builders’ merchants.
  11. Emergency services (only) provided by opticians, hearing aid providers, car garages, bicycle repair outlets and electrical, IT and telephone service and maintenance providers.

As mentioned, the detail of the lists of essential services and essential retail services is available here.


  1. Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 (enacted on 27 March 2020).
  2. Health Act 1947 (Affected Orders) Order 2020.
  3. Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

This briefing is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.

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