Coronavirus: Ireland's emergency response

Out-Law Guide | 20 Mar 2020 | 4:01 pm | 4 min. read

The Dáil has passed legislation providing for enhanced social welfare benefits for workers who are self-isolating or have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill (19-page / 574KB PDF) (the Bill) also permits certain measures to be taken to support the public health objective of ensuring people who need to self-isolate do so and to delay the spread of the virus, officially Covid-19, if needed.

The government is requesting that the Bill be enacted today, 20 March, and it is due to be passed through the Seanad later. It is proposed that, once enacted, the legislation as it relates to benefits will only be in place until 9 May; and 9 November where it relates to the regulations preventing, limiting, minimising or slowing the spread of Covid-19. Those dates can be extended by the government if required.

With a growing number of employees working at home and possibly more restrictions being put in place, employers should think about the best ways to stay connected with their employees and to increase virtual interaction. These can be simple ways, such as picking up the phone rather than emailing, or having video calls.

Enhanced support benefits

The Bill provides that people who are incapable of work, or are deemed to be incapable of work due to being diagnosed in the prescribed manner with Covid-19 or certified or notified in the prescribed manner as a probable source of infection of Covid-19, will be entitled to Illness Benefit from day one. This measure is to take effect retrospectively from 9 March 2020.

The Bill provides that further regulations may be implemented to give effect to this measure, including to prescribe the procedure by which, and manner in which, a person is deemed to be a probable source of infection of Covid-19. The Minister for Health (the Minister) may also prescribe a category or categories of people who, by virtue of the terms and conditions of their contract of employment, will not be entitled to Illness Benefit in respect of their absences from employment.

The Bill also provides that people will be entitled to apply for jobseeker's benefit after the first three days of any period of interruption of employment and a person will be entitled to apply for jobseeker's allowance after the first three days of unemployment in any continuous period of employment.

See our Out-Law Guide: Coronavirus: lay-off and unemployment payments in Ireland.

Public interest provisions

The Bill provides that the Minister may make further regulations for the purpose of preventing, limiting, minimising or slowing the spread of Covid-19 (including the spread outside of Ireland); or, where otherwise necessary, to deal with public health risks arising from the spread of Covid-19.

These regulations may impose measures such as restricting travel, prohibiting events or requiring safeguards to be put in place by premises owners – including the temporary closure of premises – or any other measures that the Minister considers necessary in order to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19. These restrictions include a provision requiring people to remain in their homes.

The Bill states that areas or regions in Ireland where there is known or thought to be sustained human transmission of Covid-19 or from which there is a high risk of infection or contamination with Covid-19 from that area may be declared an 'affected area'. Restrictions may be imposed upon travel to, from or within these affected areas.

Anyone who contravenes, obstructs, interferes with or impedes a member of the Garda Síochána in the course of exercising a power under these regulations may be found guilty of an offence which on summary conviction can lead to a fine of €2,500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.

Where offences are committed by a corporate body and it is proved that the offence was committed with the consent or connivance, or was attributable to any wilful neglect, of a director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, or someone purporting to act in that capacity, that individual, as well as the company, will be guilty of an offence.

Further, the Bill allows a medical officer to order the detention and isolation of an individual in a hospital or other place until such time as the medical officer certifies that detention is no longer required. An order of this type may be made where the medical officer believes in good faith that an individual is a potential source of infection, is a potential risk to public health and that detention or isolation is appropriate to prevent, limit, minimise or slow down the spread of Covid-19 and minimise the risk to human life and public health. The individual may also be detained if they cannot be effectively isolated, or if they refuse or appear unlikely to remain isolated.

An individual who is detained may request that their detention is reviewed by another medical officer. Detention will be reviewed as soon as practicable, and where the medical officer who carries out the review considers that the person is not, at the time of review, a potential source of infection, the medical officer will certify that the person is no longer required to be detained and will be discharged.

Where a medical officer orders that an individual be detained, they must ensure that a medical examination of the individual is carried out as soon as possible and in any event no later than 14 days from the time of their detention.

The Health Service Executive will cover the cost of maintenance and treatment of an individual who has been detained in a hospital or similar facility.

Anyone who prevents or attempts to prevent the detention of an individual; who assists in an escape or an attempted escape of an individual who is subject to detention or isolation; or who obstructs or interferes with the exercise of these powers may be found guilty of an offence which on summary conviction can lead to a €2,500 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both.

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