Gardaí now have the power to fine people travelling into the Republic from Northern Ireland in breach of Covid-19 travel rules.
People travelling to the airport for non-essential travel will now also be subject to a much greater fine than those travelling within the country.
However, there is confusion among Garda management about how the new fine system will be enforced.
A €100 fine can be sent to a person’s home addresses in Northern Ireland for breaching the travel restriction, as is the case with road traffic fines. But it is unclear what will happen if the person refuses to pay the fine.
It is understood enforcement of the new regulations is unlikely to take place until this has been worked out.
The changes come in the form of two statutory instruments signed by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly over the weekend and published on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, new figures show gardaí have handed out a record number of fines for breaches of Covid-19 regulations in the last seven days. In the last week well over 2,000 fines have been handed out, bringing the total number of fines to more than 3,500 since they were first introduced three weeks ago.
Under the new statutory instruments signed by Mr Donnelly, people “not ordinarily resident in the State” are not allowed to travel within the State “without reasonable excuse”.
The previous version of the legislation did not include reference to those who live outside the State and was therefore interpreted as not being enforceable against them. The main impact of the new regulation will be on cross-Border travel. To date, gardaí could only advise those travelling in the South to turn back if they did not have a reasonable excuse.
A Garda source stressed that gardaí will not have the power to order someone to return across the Border, only to fine them for a breach of the regulations.
In a separate amendment published on Monday, Mr Donnelly imposed a new category of travel restriction aimed at Irish holiday makers. People found travelling to an airport or seaport for the purpose of onward travel without reasonable excuse will now face a fixed fine of €500.
It is understood these fines can be issued immediately. However, the Garda system is still being upgraded, meaning offenders will only receive the fine in the post at a later date.
In excess of 2,100 fines have now been issued for travel without a reasonable excuse, gardaí said.
In addition, over the weekend gardaí broke up house parties with up to 30 people in attendance in counties Dublin, Sligo, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny, Westmeath, Limerick, Cork and Tipperary. More than 150 fines were issued for either organising or attending a house party.
The fine for organising such a party is €500 and for attending €150.
Over the period from Thursday, January 29th to Sunday, January 31st, gardaí issued over 280 fines at Dublin Airport to people for leaving the country for non-essential travel. The fine in each case was €100. Under the new amendment the penalty rises to €500 for future offenders.
Donegal Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said he was “comfortable” with the new cross-Border regulations.“What we sought was a seamless border so we do have that but we also have a public health emergency on the island,” he said.
Independent Donegal TD Thomas Pringle said the new regulations would add to the argument for a joint Covid-19 strategy across the entire island, while Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry said the Government should “appeal to all including the corporate world to eliminate all travel at this time”.
— to www.irishtimes.com