COVID-19: Proposed Emergency Legislation
On 17 March 2020 the Irish Government published draft legislation to address aspects of the COVID-19-prompted global crisis as it is affecting Ireland.
The Health Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2020 proposes measures in two broad policy areas: (a) public health and (b) social welfare.
A statutory framework already exists for the control of infectious diseases (including curtailing the movement of people in the community), under the Health Act 1947 and the (much-amended) Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981 primarily.
The Bill proposes additional powers for the health authorities, under regulations that the Bill proposes the Minister for Health would be empowered to make, to regulate gatherings of people, public and private events and travel (to, from and within the State). In the case of potential restrictions on the movement of people within the State, the Bill would create a concept of an “affected area” in respect of which enhanced restrictions could be imposed if an area was (after consideration of medical advice) to be so designated.
It is proposed that these powers would be available where there is “an immediate, exceptional and manifest risk to human life and public health” from the spread of COVID-19.
Criminal penalties would apply for breach of such regulations.
The Bill would also strengthen existing powers under the 1947 Act and the 1981 Regulations to permit a medical officer to order the isolation of any person in the State if the medical officer believes that he or she is a source of infection and that the detention or isolation of the person is necessary in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Bill proposes enhanced income supports for people who are diagnosed with, or who are required to self-isolate due to, COVID-19. It also proposes to confirm previously announced changes in order to remove the waiting period for payment of Jobseekers Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance in these circumstances.
The Government has stated that these changes are intended to remove any financial disincentive to a person self-isolating when that is medically appropriate.
When will the Bill become Law?
The Government has stated that it will be requesting that the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament) enact the Bill by Friday 20 March.
As proposed legislation, it is of course possible that the Bill will be amended when it is considered and debated in parliament.
This briefing will be updated when the proposed legislation has been enacted, to reflect any amendments that are made to it.
This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP 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.