Emergency Legislation Around COVID Must be the Exception Not the Norm

Commission Members Address Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the Commission) has set out to Oireachtas Members that emergency legislation related to COVID must be used only exceptionally, and must be subjected to strict human rights standards and oversight.

Newly appointed Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney and Commission Member Sunniva McDonagh also voiced concerns to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that gaps in Ireland’s legislation have left certain groups more exposed, setting out that such gaps are “not cost free” because they “deliver real and meaningful impact to people’s lives”.

Addressing Oireachtas Members, Sinéad Gibney Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, set out the need for emergency laws to be the “exception, not the norm.”

“Where emergency legislation is used, it must meet international human rights requirements of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination.

“There can be no uncertainty around what ‘emergency legislation’ means in terms of legislative practice, monitoring of implementation and its active oversight”

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney also specifically highlighted the need for greater data to be made available to oversee COVID related Garda powers:

“The Commission has consistently raised the need for more detailed, disaggregated data on the implementation of emergency powers afforded to An Garda Síochána in the course of the pandemic.

“After all, how can you, as lawmakers, know if emergency powers are being enforced in line with human rights and equality principles if you don’t have access to information about the people most impacted by them?”

The Commission is addressing the Oireachtas Committee in line with its statutory mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and equality.

It is the second time that the Commission has appeared before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, with a previous appearance in July focused on the rights of people with disabilities.


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095


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Notes to editor:

The full opening statement made by the Chief Commissioner to the Oireachtas Committee is available at the link below:


The Commission’s full written submission to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response is available at the link below:


Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

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