Northern Ireland clamps down on coronavirus distancing with fines up to £5,000

29 March 2020, 15:49

PSNI officers can fine people if they do not obey social distancing rules
PSNI officers can fine people if they do not obey social distancing rules. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Northern Ireland's police are targeting tourist sites and visitor locations to enforce compliance with social-distancing rules, the chief constable has said.

People who repeatedly fail to comply with officer requests to disperse could face fines up to £960 under new emergency regulations agreed by the Stormont Executive.

The measures, which are now in force, also provide for fines up to £5,000 for businesses not adhering to the new rules around closures and implementation of social-distancing practices.

Northern Ireland was the last part of the UK to develop regulations flowing from new powers secured through legislation passed at Westminster earlier in the week.

As of today, 21 people with Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland.The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 give the authorities the power to close certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse.

They include a list of which type of business premises should close during the current clampdown on public life, and which can continue operating as an essential service.

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21 people have died in Northern Ireland from the virus
21 people have died in Northern Ireland from the virus. Picture: PA

Those workplaces that remain open must comply with strict rules on social distancing.

On Sunday, Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byrne set out the police's approach to using the new enforcement powers on coronavirus restrictions.

He said officers would employ a staged four-phase approach of engage, explain, encourage and enforce.

Mr Byrne said they would only use enforcement when "absolutely necessary".

"Each and every one of us has a personal responsibility to follow the NI Executive regulations and do everything we can to stop the spread of Covid-19," he said.

"Officers will apply their discretion and will ask questions to establish individual circumstances. We will instruct people to return home if they do not have a reasonable excuse to be out of their house."

Mr Byrne said officers would be targeting popular tourism locations and visitor spots to ensure people were not gathering.

He said the public would see a change of "police style and approach" at such places, adding: "We have no desire to use the formal emergency policing powers now available but it is right that we can, if necessary, enforce against those who disregard the measures and put their own health and the health of other people at risk.

"The vast majority of the public are following the regulations and I thank you for your support as we deal with this significant challenge.

"To others who are ignoring the directions, the Police Service message is simple, stay at home."

He explained the options open to officers in dealing with people who failed to comply with directions.

If required, police would enforce the legislation and issue a penalty notice of £60, according to Mr Byrne.