Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s desire to criminally prosecute those found to have more than six visitors in their homes was axed following a last-minute intervention by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
The Irish Examiner has learned that the proposal to have it as a penal provision was included in Mr Donnelly’s memo to Cabinet, but when it was debated by ministers, he himself said it was right to forego the proposal.
“He agreed with scrapping the very proposal he was himself bringing,” one source said.
It is understood that the issue around how to tackle house parties was subject to a lengthy discussion among ministers with Mr Martin seeking input from ministers across the three parties.
The Attorney General Paul Gallagher is said to have been involved in the excising of the penal element.
While there was said to be no disagreement on increasing powers to Gardaí to prosecute pubs flaunting the laws, it is clear there was a range of views expressed on the house party matter.
According to sources, there was feeling expressed that Mr Donnelly’s memo over-reached and ministers were keen to look to the compliance route over enforcement.
“Sometimes we have to temper the desire of the Department of Health,” said one source. It is understood that ministers did not want Gardaí peeping into homes to see if seven people were there.
“This plan is to ensure you don’t have 30 people in your back garden, not if you accidentally have a seventh person in for a short period of time,” said a source on the meeting.
There was some discussion about the constitutional rights of people and their homes and some ministers felt that if the provision was being axed, any mention of homes or gatherings in the homes in the laws would be “tokenistic”.
“Even though Donnelly originally wanted the enforcement option, by the time it came to Cabinet he agreed we should be going down the compliance route,” a source said.
It is also understood Mr Martin sought for a plan to re-open pubs in the short term to be examined and developed and that was agreed.