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But first, the doll returns later today following a shorter than usual summer holiday, and it was due to return on September the 15th, but it was recalled ahead of schedule. Given the seriousness of the issues around Gallowgate and the resignation of Dara Cleary as minister for Agriculture. And on the agenda today will be the legislation to give Garthe new powers to close pubs, which are flouting public health guidelines. And to talk about all of this, I'm joined in the studio by the Minister for Justice Minister, Helen McKenty.
Minister. You're very welcome. Thank you for coming in today. So over the summer, we had 165 breaches, hadn't we, of restrictions in pubs, and the guards couldn't really do anything about it. Isn't that why we're here today?
Well, the legislation, as you've rightly outlined, will give Garda additional powers of enforcement, which will allow them to do a number of things where there have been breaches. And you've outlined over the summer, probably more so from the beginning of July. And we probably knew this was going to happen with the summer months. There have been an increase in breaches, but also an increase in a very small number where people have been repeat offenders. If you want to use that word, where they've consistently breached guidelines.
It is important also to say the vast majority of whether it's publicans, licence holders and restaurants or other premises have it here to the public health guidelines and the vast majority of cases that has that has been the case.
But the ones who who were who were repeatedly breaching. So what you were saying was that there was what the guards were telling you was that there was nothing really they could do about that.
Well, they can. And they have been engaging first and foremost with publicans. And that's the approach that has been taken throughout all of covid where the Gardy, whether it's with the business or an individual, have always tried to engage and ask people to comply. There are, of course, the normal measures that are there around, I suppose, where you have breaches of public order, where you have people drinking on the streets, various different measures that Guard can already use.
However, when it came to a pub that refused to come in line with the corporate health guidelines, there were instances where the guards felt that there wasn't anything more that they could do.
What this now allows, it allows them where somebody has been asked first and foremost, and there's never going to be an incident, because I think people are maybe afraid that a guard is going to walk into a policy, that somebody is in breach and say immediately, we're closing this place down. That's not going to happen. The guards will go in. If they see somebody is not compliant, they will ask them to comply. And if they refuse to comply at a level of superintendent, they can then close the premises for the remainder of the day.
What happens after that then is if somebody is not in compliance for a second time and again, they're asked for a second time to come into compliance and they refuse to do that again at superintendent level, the guard can go to the district court and they can ask for an emergency closure for up to three days. If they then don't comply with that and breach it for a third time, the Garda can then and again, this is a superintendent level, having engaged with them, having told them why they need to come into compliance and what they need to do to come into compliance, they can again go to the district court.
They can warn them that they're going to the district court. They can ask them to come into compliance. And on the first instance, they can close them for up to seven days and then up to Thursday. So as you can see from the very outset, there will always be that engagement. We will always ask people to comply. They will always be told why they're not complying. And I think that's very important as well, because sometimes people breach it without knowing it.
And there will always be an appeals mechanism throughout all of this where somebody feels they've been treated. And so there'll be plenty of chances there.
But absolutely, all of what you've outlined applies to pubs that are allowed to open because they're serving food. So what happens if a guard comes across a pub only serving alcohol and it's open and it's doing that when it shouldn't be?
Well, at the moment they shouldn't be open, so they would be forced to close if they are open where they shouldn't be. But what I think is important about this legislation is it potentially paves the way for weapons, as they're known, to actually open. And this is something that we've been looking at because at the moment you have to serve a substantial meal. Yeah, not all pubs are able to do that. Not all Republicans want to do that.
That's not the space that they've been working and for many years. What this may allow and I hope it does, and obviously we don't have a time frame for when other pubs can open. But there are new measures along with this legislation that will give greater guidance to Gardy as to what should be done in the pubs. So now it's not just the substantial meal. Now you have to have face coverings for people who are working there, whether it's a visa or a face mask.
People will have to be sitting at a table and there will be table service within the group. There has to be a lead person in the group to give their name and their contact details, and there has to be social distancing. So if you were in a normal pub where there isn't food being served with these measures implemented, it will allow, I think, and pave the way for a lot of our other pubs to be opened up by. The vintners have probably welcomed this as well, but I do think it paves.
So what you're saying today is this legislation is a roadmap in a way to getting those pubs open again, the ones who haven't. But I think it can be.
Yes. And when and we have obviously I mean, the idea that we maybe haven't been looking at opening pubs, we have tried to take into account the changes that have happened around public health. And that's why the other pubs and the pubs haven't been opened. But we have been looking at how we could open them. And this is part of that. Now we are looking at a new road map from the 13th of September. And I think people will find it very.
Because from the very outset, from March to August, that road map gave very clear indications of where we were at, what phases we were at, what guidelines, what rules, what laws, legislation people needed to adhere to. And I fully accept in the last number of weeks as we've come to the end of that road map, as the focus has rightly so, I think, been on getting our schools opened. And I like you and probably everybody else.
My my inbox has been full of water, pictures of children going to school, and it's where we needed to get to. But we now need to put in place a new road map where people are absolutely clear what is expected of them, what are the guidelines, what is in place and what will happen next. And Republicans deserve no better than that.
I'm sure you've been talking to Republicans and like we were watching primetime last night, many of us. And we will have seen the frustration that the Republicans have and they're saying, do you not trust us to do it properly? You know, does it do we do we think that Republicans are going to ride roughshod over the public health guidelines?
Absolutely not. And my parents owned a pub for many years. I've worked in pubs when I was in college and after that. And I absolutely believe that they want to open. They want to do so in a safe manner, manner, and to go back to the fact that the vast majority of pubs that are currently open are doing a fantastic job and are adhering to all of the guidelines. A decision was taken and every decision we've made has been based on public health guidance, where we had an increase in numbers over the summer months, where it was felt that in order to make sure that I suppose, the measures and that the ground was prepared for our children to go back to school, for colleges to reopen, and that we would delay it slightly.
Now, what I would like to see, and I think a lot of people would like to see, is the remainder of pubs being able to open their economies can open the tarnished. As mentioned before, we are an outlier. And this was probably one of the few countries where they're not opened. And I believe the legislation that I'm bringing in with the measures the Minister Donnelly has introduced will help pave the way for that.
So you want to say, do you want to see the pubs open? Well, you know, these are people who have worked their entire life and some of them are now sitting and haven't worked since March. These are communities and in particular rural communities where there's nowhere for people to socialise. You have some people who there are only social outlets, is a few points in the pub, whether it's midweek or during the week. And I think we should be able to put in place measures.
But we do have to be guided by public health advice. And we have been throughout all of this.
And I suppose as we put together the new road map, I would like to see pubs in that road map, and I would like to see us giving them some clearance on that, because the guard said at the weekend and Annette Cunningham from the ACSI said it's very hard for guards to go into a pub and know whether somebody had a meal or not. And, you know, how are they expected to police that? And you can understand how difficult it must be if I fully accept that.
And that's why the new and additional regulations have been introduced. So it's not just the meal now. Guards can go in and see our staff wearing masks. Have there been records taken of who's at the table and the chief lead person with their numbers? What are the times from when they came in and when they left the same as restaurants? Is there social distancing happening? So there were a lot more measures now in place which will give guard the very clear indications as to whether or not somebody is in breach or not.
And again, it's about asking people. It's about going in, you know, a lot of a lot of the time. These are local Garda. They know the publicans. They know the people who are in the pubs as well. And it's a matter of going in and saying, look, you're not in compliance. We're asking you to come into compliance. And if not, you go through the statistics. And I really do expect that the last ones where the extreme ones where people are being closed down for a month, I expect very little, if any, will actually get to that.
You backed off regulations or legislation, rather, around House parties. Why?
I wouldn't say that we backed off on anything. We have not asked to come to cabinet with a memo on it, though.
So what we had been asked was to look at the fact that and the figures showed that there were increase in clusters, not just in house parties. And I think we have to be very careful to be blaming. You know, there's a suggestion that as younger people in colleges and host parties, but in general, larger groupings in people's homes, that this was causing problems. We looked at, I suppose, a number of measures we never looked at going into somebody's home.
And I want to be very clear on that. I don't think that's an appropriate measure. And I think that would be very extreme in the context of what we looked at was where we could make something. The law essentially, it is now the law that you can't have more than six people from three households in your home. And if it's outside that there are no more than 15 people. And people might ask, why have we not made that a penal provision at the moment, the penal provisions for breaking that would be potentially jail for six months or over two and a half thousand year for.
Again, that's extreme. It's, you know, where somebody may have breached the rules without realising it or, you know, everybody's trying their best here. And what we're asking again is that people comply. So we have made it the law, but there is no penal provision and we have that and have had that as as the case through I covered. And it might be unusual, but we are in very unusual times when we introduced the restriction around travel to the five kilometers, 20 kilometres that was the law.
But there was no penal provision. And in the vast majority of cases, people complied with this. And what I'm asking is for people. To comply, I think what's going to be very difficult and what we've seen over the last few weeks where not just students going to college for the first time or going back to college, younger people moving out of home, you know, there's very little for them to do. And, you know, we don't want to be blaming any particular group.
This is about everybody taking responsibility for their own actions.
And that includes when you're in your own home, if you have people over and that you comply with the guidelines and the regulations that have been signed, because we know that there are people who live close to colleges and universities who say, look, the bad part is happening all summer long and it means very difficult for them watching that and feeling that there's not much that can be done about it.
We have to ask people to comply in this instance.
Again, the idea that we would allow Ghadi to go into somebody's apartment or into their home. I really don't think that we should ever be going in that direction. And that's not something as minister for justice that I will do. Whether or not you make it a penal provision. At the moment, the provisions are two and a half thousand year for fine or potential imprisonment. That's too extreme. So what the Minister for Health is locking us is potentially, you know, the option of an on the spot fine for various different penal provisions, you know, and what that might look like and what those penalties might be.
That's something that he is minister for health can change because the current act is quite and the words are often used draconian. But whether or not that would apply to Holmes or not, that's something that we decided against. I think everything has to be kept under review at all stages. So if we find in the next few months that there's, again, a massive increase and it's very clearly pointing towards houses, whether it's better communication with people, whether it's setting out guidelines clearer in a more clearer fashion, whatever we need to do, we will do.
But we know this too extreme.
But some people will not listen to that message ever know. And we've seen that in every element of covid-19 where people have been asked whether it's to wear face masks, whether it's to knock congregation groups, whether it's to do various different things, people have always reached them. And I suppose what we are what we want to do is make sure that as many people are compliant as possible.
Just on that, Una McGurk, the barrister who is on the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, you wanted her removed from that tribunal. Where is that at?
No, that's not what I've said. There were concerns that were brought to my attention following an event that took place last Saturday. And I take it very seriously.
And this was the anti last protest. Yes.
And I mean, look at groups like that and events like that shouldn't have happened. And I'm very clear that they shouldn't have happened as any other gathering shouldn't have happened. But there were particular concerns that were brought to my attention about an individual very quickly acted the following morning and asked the chair of IPART to produce a report based on what happened and to make recommendations. Now, I've only been given that this morning, so I actually haven't had a chance unless was giving it before I left.
And so I look at that. I look at the recommendations, possibly ask advice of the AG, but I will make a decision on that. But I don't think it would be appropriate for me to maybe comment on any individual.
How do you police those protests now? Because people are allowed to to protest, as they always have been. But if you are protesting in a large gathering now with no face coverings, what is the Garda role in those situations?
Well, I think I mean, it is very difficult. And obviously, the Gardy this isn't the first instance where we have had large protests or where we have people gathering and whether or not wearing face coverings. Now the face coverings, it's obviously very clear that it's mandatory when you're in public transport, when you're in shops and we're advising people to wear them outdoors. And for the vast majority of times, particularly whether in large gatherings, there are public order offences the guard can again use at their behest and outside at an anti mask protest.
You don't have to wear one, but you shouldn't be at a large gathering.
You shouldn't be at a large gathering. No, I mean, we're very clear with that that there shouldn't be any large gatherings. What we've introduced, neither one, which is a penal provision, is where there were large gatherings, over 15 people. So that hadn't been the case up until Friday where we introduced these new and quite the minister who signed into regulations, anybody organising. So it's not the people who are attending. Anybody organising an event where there were over 15 people in an outdoor setting can face prosecution and can be fined up to the two and a half thousand or face a prison term.
What's the deal with Garthe and face coverings? For example, if a guard is working on a checkpoint, should a guard be wearing a face mask? It's not mandatory, but I think the vast majority of Carthy are wearing. Should it be mandatory?
Because if a guard is leading into your car, you could rightfully say, look, I feel that I'm at risk here because of the close proximity.
This is an operational matter. And I suppose this is something that the Garda commissioner and that his team would advise. And so it's really not something for me to get involved. And I do think and if you look at even if you see two guards in a car, you often see them wearing face coverings because they're clearly from two different households. I think then the vast majority of cases, they are wearing them.
But again, that that's very much an operational matter on the issue of Spitalfields or an. He spit guards, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have said it's barbaric, the use of these I no longer are the Shia corner would prefer for it to continue. Certainly the Greens have said that. Where do you stand on them?
So I've seen them because like that, I suppose you have an idea of what this is and what a spit guard is.
And I was looking at pictures of them online this morning. It's a bag over somebody's head. It's a clear mesh. So it's a see through mesh where you have a plastic cover over the mouth. And I suppose this is only used where somebody has spotted a guard. Now, when we're in a public health crisis and where covid can be transmitted through somebody spitting at a guard, a guard is carrying out their duty to protect people. I think it's important that we keep our guard safe.
It's been used in very limited circumstances, I think probably 80, 85 times in total. So it has been used in very limited circumstances. But having looked at it and seen us and I suppose understood when it's used and why it's used, I do support the Guardian in what they're doing at the moment. But again, this is I mean, this is an unprecedented situation. This is something that would only ever be, I think, used in extreme circumstances.
And I think we've seen by the fact that it's been used in very limited numbers that that has been the case.
He was here last Monday and he was explaining to us the phone call that he got from you saying that you had had a phone call to say Phil Hogan had been stopped in his car because he was using his mobile phone and he had been cautioned by a guard. Now, there has been some commentary since that about why the guard, the commissioner, would have made that call or informed you and your department and you then going on to inform the. Were you uncomfortable getting that call?
So firstly, I'm really not going to get into detail of what the call was about because it is a private issue with a private citizen.
And I think the officer did say that the call came from you and from your department. Absolutely. So, I mean, the commissioner has within his power, under legislation for the guy, the second act and more specifically under Section 41, there's various different paragraphs within that where he can make information known to the government and through the government, through me and with Section 41 deals that he decided and it is at his discretion completely that information be made available to me.
And it was made available through the secretary general, as it often is the case. And once I was made aware, I gave this information to the TUC as head of the government. Other than that, I mean, I gave this information privately and that's as far as it went home, that mine. Did you have a child in that?
Did you have a choice as to whether to inform the teacher at that point when the guard, the commissioner informs me and informed the government? I believe it's my duty then to inform the teacher as head of government. I mean, he can inform me on issues, whether it's around the security of the state, whether it's around policing matters. And I have often done that or whether it's around, you know, the functioning of the dole and the capacity of the government.
So there are various different headings under which the commissioner can make information available to me. And I suppose it's been made available to the government. And as head of government, I feel it's it's a duty for me to pass to the future, put in a confidential way, and that's what I would always do.
OK, I want to ask you about direct provision, because you said about a month ago with regard to the Skellig Star Hotel, when people there went on hunger strike because of the outbreak of of Colvert in that hotel or direct provision centres as it was being used at that time, that you understood if people stopped eating and that there was a concern there that needed to be addressed.
Do we extrapolate from that that you have serious concerns about direct provision?
Well, I think we all can see that direct provision has served a purpose, but that it needs to to change. And that's why we have a commitment in the programme for government to get rid of direct provision, to move to a system where people have their own homes, where they have turnkey accommodation, where they're not in congregated settings. I mean, the Saligari or Skellig Star is like other emergency accommodation and it is emergency accommodation. It's never intended or was never intended to be permanent.
Have all of the people been moved from there? No, not yet. But I had given a commitment. It would have been just over a month ago now to have the first families moved within the first week and that happened and to have the remainder of people moved within the next few months. The vast majority have been moved. So there are still some because there are a number of single people who are there as well as well as the families.
So we took commitment and said that it would be close by the end of the year. And I absolutely stand by that. But it is only September. So I suppose we have to find we can't move them from one place that isn't potentially appropriate to somewhere else that isn't appropriate. So we need to make sure that we get this right. covid has been difficult for any congregated type of setting or any type of setting where you have large groups of people.
And that's why we've put in place a huge suite of measures to try and protect them, to try and ensure that we are enabling them to socially distance, to isolate where they need to, where the right type of health provisions are put in place, where we're communicating as well, where it needs to be in other languages. And what we're introducing this week, early next week, hopefully by Monday, is a company. Testing system where all seven and a half thousand residents and reprovision and staff members will be tested, how often so what what will happen initially?
And obviously nobody will be forced to be tested. It's all voluntary, but they will be tested and then everybody will be tested again two weeks later. And then after a month, we'll obviously look at the overall picture and see do we need to do it again? There's obviously been a lot of coordination between my own department section within direct provision, the agency Nafiz and order to get this in place and to make sure that we have it right. So I think it will be important.
But, you know, we have had rosters in many different places, not just in direct provision. And it's important that we don't try and pigeonhole.
Yeah, but we we all we've been talking a lot about protecting people and we've been talking a lot about it on this program. And there are those who represent the people in direct provision. There are those who are in direct vision who say we can't essentially distance, we can't self isolate. We just don't have the facility to do that here.
Yeah, and it has been a challenge in some instances. We've introduced between 850 and 900 additional bad places to try and allow for isolation. So whether it's people so from the very outset, anybody over the age of 65 or those who had underlying health conditions are needed to cocoon were given the space to Cocoon. So that happened immediately. Anybody who came into contact or who tested positive was given that option. But obviously there are those who haven't tested positive and who don't need to to necessarily cocoon, haven't always been able to to socially isolate or to be to be as distant as they would like to be.
And that's why and it's mainly in the emergency centers. That's why we've tried to move people as soon as we can.
But it that what City West has four city buses is for that isolation where people are cocooning or also you have people who are in direct provision, who are working in health care, where they're able to to to to to isolate as well.
Do you know how many people are in City West at the moment in those circumstances? At the moment, I don't have an exact figure, but I mean, it has worked well. And I think the fact that we've added the additional bed capacity as well throughout the country really has helped. But it points to the larger picture. And I have to you know, we have to acknowledge, I think, that a huge amount of progress has been made around reprovision in recent years.
People obviously, that the process itself has reduced significantly in terms of people's weight and how long they're going through the system, the ability to work. There's other measures which Catherine Day, who is currently undertaking a massive report around how we transition from direct provision into a new a new system. Essentially, that report would be presented at the end of the month. And Roderick O'Gorman, who is essentially taking over the provision of direct provision in his role as minister for Equality, will take that report.
And I'll work very closely with them to see that it's implemented.
What can you tell us about the delay in naming the nominees for EU commissioner? What's going on? Well, look, I'm not privy to those conversations. The three leaders of the theCIA, Coniston Minister Rine, are discussing and obviously taking on board the ask from commissioner ourselves. What do you think of that? Ask, should we adhere to it?
Well, I think we need to take it very seriously. I fully respect and I support her ambitions to have a gender balanced cabinet. And I think she has made great progress and great strides since becoming commissioner in last. Obviously, Phil Hogan was a man and that had been the case prior to now. But the fact that she asked for a man and a woman, we need to take the gender er question very seriously.
So when you hear that one name might be put forward, one name of a man, what do you think? Is that the wrong strategy?
I don't I don't know that that's the case at all. I've heard that one woman will be put forward. I've heard one man. I've heard that two people might be. What I know is that nothing has been decided and they certainly haven't ruled out putting forward two names. You know, we don't know what portfolio we might guess. Unfortunately, the trade portfolio may not stay with Ireland. What do you think of that?
Because, I mean, obviously, you have vast experience in Europe in your previous role. Do you think the trade portfolio is lost to us?
I don't, but I think it's it may be a challenge in maintaining it. I mean, as commissioner, you're not just representing your country. You're representing the whole of the EU. And obviously the trade portfolio, given where we are with Brexit, was a significant and will continue to be a significant portfolio, not just for Ireland, but for the whole of the EU. Yes, I would like to see us keep up, but that's obviously not within our remit.
I think the best person for the job should be selected. And if we put forward somebody who is capable, there's no reason why we shouldn't maintain that portfolio. So we just have to wait and see.
Just before we finished, I want to ask you a final question. Last weekend marked four years since the murder of Calder Hall and her three boys, Liam, Nijole and Ryan. Now in 2019, your predecessor, Charles Flanagan, he set up a review into how how the law might change to deal with domestic homicides and offer more support to family members. Where is that at? I know Nora Gibbons sadly passed away. She was carrying out that independent review, but a lot of her work had been completed.
Yes. So if I could maybe just, I suppose, acknowledge the tragic circumstances in which Claudia passed away and to offer my sincere condolences to her mother, Mary Ann. And to Jacklin, to her entire family, and I know they've heard that a lot, and what they want now is action and we can't change what has happened, but we can try and learn from us and we can try and make sure that other families and communities don't go through this.
The report that Charlie Flanagan asked often and as you've rightly outlined, unfortunately, the chairperson passed away more. Butler, who was on the advisory group and had been working with her, has taken on the role as chair. What I've asked for is that report to be brought to me by the end of the year. It obviously will feed into another commitment that we've given as part of the programme for government around a review for domestic homicide. So I'd like to get moving on that as quickly as possible and have that as part of my my suppose initial six month plan.
So I've asked for by the end of the year, I do understand a lot of work has been done and I think the sooner we can we can get working on that, the sooner we can, you know, I suppose try and support other families who who may be in a situation. Thankfully, familicide is not something that's very common in Ireland. However, we've seen from from this particular case the devastation that it caused. We need to learn from us.
And I am absolutely committed that we will, because the other commitment that was given at the time was that the Gardy the guard, the commissioner said in March of 2019, which is quite a while ago now, well over a year ago, that the guy they would carry out a serious case review and that work has been ongoing to do you know, has that been completed?
I don't have details of that at the moment. But I know, again, this is something that the commissioner is keen to have concluded as soon as possible and obviously continued liaison with the family in that regard is is extremely important.
Okay, Minister, thank you for joining us.
Mr Helen McKenty, text five one, double five one today with Clare Byrne on Archie Radio one.