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Micheál Martin said motorists could also be facing penalties

Micheál Martin said motorists could also be facing penalties

REUTERS

Micheál Martin said motorists could also be facing penalties

On-the-spot fines and stronger enforcement around Level 3 restrictions are under consideration, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Micheál Martin revealed the issue was discussed at a meeting of the Covid oversight committee, chaired by the secretary general of his department, Martin Fraser.

"We're looking at the whole area of fines, for example, in terms of road traffic and so on," Mr Martin said, without offering any further details.

The issue of fines was raised at the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Tuesday, including a proposed €50 on-the-spot fine for not wearing a face mask where required.

The Taoiseach also seemed to suggest fines for motorists stopped outside their own counties - with their vehicle number plates automatically disclosing where they live to checkpoint gardaí in many cases.

Mr Martin said there was consideration of "stronger enforcement around Level 3 restrictions."

Rampant

He then changed course to discuss the threat from rampant coronavirus cases in the North.

"We're particularly concerned about Northern Ireland," he said.

"There is now a significantly challenging situation for the North, in terms of the very high numbers, but clearly concern over the overspill into the Republic and the consequences that could be there. We have to deal with that as well."

The Taoiseach boasted that the Government's Living With Covid plan "has been hailed by other countries as a very coherent plan and framework."

"I think the implementation of Level 3 is now essential," he said. "People out there know the basics in terms of preventing the spread of this virus.

"It's less congregation, less social contact, mask-wearing. It is a behavioural issue fundamentally."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar suggested a new penalty regime for breaching restrictions could be considered where people are fined €50 for not wearing a mask or €200 for leaving a county under lockdown.

Mr Varadkar raised the idea at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday, where he also noted the public health laws are very strong and that gardaí are satisfied with their existing powers which allow them police by consent.

He also said there will be increased levels of policing on the roads under Level 3 restrictions.

While signalling there are no immediate plans to change the laws, the Fine Gael leader said one of the questions that could be considered was whether the Government should bring in a fines regime.

Level 3 restrictions, which are now in place nationwide, prevent people from leaving their counties unless for essential reasons, although there are no powers of enforcement for gardaí.

"The law already provides for fines of €2,500 for breaches of some laws like organising a gathering or not wearing a mask on public transport," Mr Varadkar's spokesperson said.

"All options are under review but there are no plans at present for a new system of fines."

The Department of Health proposed a system of new fines a number of weeks ago but the idea has been resisted by the Department of Justice.

Justice officials believe a graduated fine system will not work because people will ignore smaller financial penalties.

There are also concerns over what happens if someone refuses to pay a fine.

Gardaí have also continually told department officials they do not believe a new system of fines is necessary.

Mr Varadkar also told the meeting it was unlikely the Government would introduce laws to allow gardaí to enter people's homes, saying it would change the way we live in our country in a big way.