Confusion as hardware and garden stores deemed 'essential'
Hardware stores and garden centres can legally reopen under new laws signed by Health Minister Simon Harris - but the Government wants them to remain closed for the Easter weekend anyway.
There was confusion yesterday over the new batch of Covid-19 restrictions after hardware shops were deemed "essential retail outlets" alongside newsagents and pharmacies.
Legal experts told the Herald that while gardai have been given sweeping powers to enforce the lockdown, they may be powerless to shut hardware and garden centres this weekend.
The Government has insisted the public health advice is that these outlets should remain closed and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said last night he did not believe they were essential retail outlets.
Woodie's, the country's largest DIY supplier, said its stores would remain closed.
However, Independent senator Michael McDowell said there was "now a doubt about whether retail businesses for gardening and hardware purposes" can open.
"It's clear that gardai cannot force them to close if they do open," he said.
Hardware shops, builders merchants and garden centres were forced to close at the end of last month after the Government brought in a series of restrictions on public movement.
Such outlets could only continue to operate if they were able to provide an emergency call-out or delivery service.
However, the regulations to give gardai powers to enforce the restrictions on public movement up to midnight on Sunday now classify them as "essential retail outlets".
This puts them in the same category as supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, dry cleaners, post offices and banks, which are all still open.
Dr Ronan Kennedy, from NUI Galway School of Law, said there is a "contradiction" between the list published by the Government last month and the regulations signed into law.
"I think these kinds of stores can legally open. There is nothing preventing them from opening today if they want to, although it would be against public health advice," he said.
"It would be helpful if the Government could clarify this contradiction."
Last night, Dr Holohan said: "In my view, they are not essential retail outlets."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The regulations are drafted to ensure that a person accessing essential supplies can do so without committing an offence.
"There is no change to the National Public Health Emergency Team guidance in respect of garden centres and hardware shops."
Woodie's DIY chief executive Declan Ronayne said the home and garden retailer's 35 stores nationwide will remain closed.
He said there had been a mistake in the regulations and Woodie's had sought clarity from the Government.
"We've been told they've no intention of changing the guidelines and we are respecting the guidelines," he said.