NI police to target tourist sites to ensure social-distancing compliance
Police in Northern Ireland are to target tourist sites and visitor locations to ensure 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 came into force at 11pm on Saturday, 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.
Fifteen 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.
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.
“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,” he added.
“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.
He said that could be limited to advice and guidance or a Community Resolution Notice (CRN).
However, he said, if required, police would enforce the legislation and issue a penalty notice of £60.
“The issuance of a PND in the first instance is not in itself a criminal offence – the police do not want to criminalise people, we simply want to ensure that people follow the regulations,” he said.
“For those who continue to disregard the NI Executive directions, the fine can be doubled each time and summary prosecution can be sought for those who refuse to pay or comply.
“The £60 fine can fall to £30 if paid within 14 days. If a person has already received a fixed penalty notice, the amount will increase to £120 and double on each further repeat offence (up to a maximum of £960).”
Mr Byrne added: “The Police Service is working in partnership with our colleagues in the NI Executive Office, the Department of Health and agencies across the public sector, including our outstanding health service workers to jointly fight the spread of the virus.
“We cannot do this unless the public adhere to the new measures, therefore I am calling on everyone in Northern Ireland to work with us, use your common sense and only leave your house if absolutely necessary.
“Finally, stay safe, and take personal responsibility to protect and support those on the front line from across the public sector who are providing vital services at this time of crisis.”