Commencement Matter


18th October, 2017



The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline sanctions available to deal with people who enter the water despite a nationwide red alert weather warning 



I am speaking on behalf of Minister for Justice and Equality who regrets that he cannot be present due to other official commitments. He is grateful to the Senator for raising this matter in the House today. 


I think we will all have seen the reports that emerged on Monday, while Hurricane Ophelia battered our shores, of a number of persons who took to the sea against the advice of Met Éireann, An Garda Síochána, and the National Emergency Coordination Group amongst others, putting their own lives at serious risk.


The Minister shares the frustration and anger of many others who have commented on these incidents. Their blatant disregard for the safety of the brave men and women of our Coast Guard and other emergency services is staggering.


The Irish Coast Guard do not have a role in sanctioning people who enter the water in such instances. The primary function of the Coast Guard is search and rescue.  Their role is to save, not sanction.  The Coast Guard responds to individual incidents on a case by case basis. Each incident is assessed based on severity and the availability of declared resources to perform a search and rescue safely. The most appropriate and best located resource is tasked based on this assessment.  The Coast Guard, including through its Marine Search & Rescue Centres, offers advice in relation to safety matters pertaining to maritime activities as requested.


It is more a matter of luck than anything else that no-one appears to have been seriously injured while swimming or surfing off the coast on Monday.  We need no reminder of course of the three people who were tragically killed on Monday during Hurricane Ophelia, and I want to again extend my sympathy and that of us all to their families and friends.


Weather events like Hurricane Ophelia are a rarity on this island. This was Ireland’s first national “Red Alert”. There is a danger now that these weather events will become more frequent and the Minister is aware of the calls for the introduction of sanctions for this kind of behaviour.


While there are no specific sanctions in place, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 allows a Garda member in certain circumstances to direct people to desist from acting in certain ways that give rise to a reasonable apprehension for the safety of persons, and leave the vicinity of the place concerned.  Failure to comply with a direction in this instance constitutes an offence punishable by a fine not exceeding €1000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or both.


Of course for a Garda member to make such a direction they must be present at the incident, which will often not be the case when dealing with such behaviour.


We should be cautious of seeking a legislative response to every issue that causes us concern.  But as the Taoiseach said yesterday it may be that introducing some kind of sanction for this kind of behaviour should be considered, perhaps on an all-party basis.  I can assure you that the Government is very open to looking at such proposals.


The Minister has asked me to conclude by saying that, ultimately, people need to take responsibility for their actions, and for putting their own lives and those of others at risk.  The simple fact is that if people would exercise a bit of common sense and find within themselves a trace of respect for those who risk their own lives to save others, we would not be here having this discussion.