Lawyer says Gardaí are powerless to prevent northerners travelling to destinations in the Republic
A LEADING Belfast lawyer has said the authorities in the Republic are currently powerless to prevent people from the north travelling to destinations south of the border.
But Niall Murphy said northerners would be subject to the same sanctions as their southern counterparts, including a fixed penalty notice of €100 (£88) for those making non-essential journeys of more than 5km from their home.
The Dublin government has signalled that it plans enhance powers to restrict unnecessary journeys though it is keen to avoid the political row that would ensue were specific curbs placed on cross-border travel.
Garda Representative Association assistant general secretary Dermot O'Brien yesterday told RTÉ that it would be unrealistic to police the 300-plus border crossings to ensure all travel is kept to 5km.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Dublin government would not seal the border in order to pursue a "zero Covid" strategy.
On Tuesday, his fellow coalition government minister Eamon Ryan said gardaí could ask people travelling into the Republic from the north to return home and may fine them.
"There is provision for someone coming down from the north, that they (gardaí) can ask someone to turn back, and we're looking to actually strengthen that (so) that we have the same fining capability in terms of traffic coming from whatever different direction," the environment minister said.
A spokesman for Dublin's Department of Justice told The Irish News that there is "constant engagement at a political level, and between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI".
He said if people were found to be more than 5km from their home and not on an essential journey then "they are being asked to return home".
"As has been the case since the start of the pandemic, An Garda Síochána will engage, explain, encourage and only as a last resort move to enforcement measures," the spokesman said.
But according to KRW Law's Mr Murphy, Irish citizens have the right to travel anywhere on the island and "cannot be discriminated against on the basis of residence".
He said there was "presently no lawful authority to direct people to return". He said any intention to alter the current rules "should be published immediately to ensure that citizens do not unwittingly act unlawfully".
"The power to issue fines and restrict the movements of all Irish citizens appears proportionate, so long as it is applied in a way that does not differentiate between those who reside in the north, east, south or west," he said.
"Any new power to issue fines to all Irish citizens, or non-citizens travelling from any part of our country, should be drafted in accordance with each citizen’s right to be treated equally and in accordance with their rights to be part of the Irish nation under Article 2 of the constitution. Only that way will equality of treatment be ensured and all of our citizens placed on an equal footing.”