By Tara Trevaskis Hoskin
Over the past month, Ireland has seen the worst surge in Covid-19 cases since the first confirmed case in the Republic on the 29th of February of last year. This understandably has raised great concern about how the pandemic is being handled here and the need for stricter regulations surrounding the Coronavirus. This leads to the question should there be heavier fines for people breaking Covid protocols? With cases still rising and stories of people flocking to sunny destinations the obvious answer would be yes, we should do everything to deter people from engaging in this kind of behaviour. However, making rash decisions based on high emotions could lead to much more serious implications. I do not believe introducing heavier fines will deter rich people from continuing to holiday or ‘anti-maskers’ to end their gatherings. I do believe that introducing heavier fines could significantly worsen the financial situation of already struggling people, set a precedent for who is and who is not punished for breaking guidelines, and not deal with the root of the problem of people not adhering to Covid protocol.
In my opinion, if the only penalty for committing an offense is a fine, then this is only a penalty for people who cannot afford it. Due to the pandemic, Ireland’s unemployment rate increased to over 20% in 2020, although this has fluctuated depending on lockdowns, this has undeniably affected people’s financial situation. Many people are depending solely on the pandemic unemployment payment to feed their families, pay rent or mortgages as well as maintaining their household. By introducing hefty fines for people who have broken Covid regulations you are furthering their descent into poverty. From a moral perspective, this is wrong, as a poor person having to pay this fine is suffering much more than someone with more financial stability who has broken the same rule and pays the same sum. Even from a purely economic perspective, it does not make sense for the government to impose further financial burdens on people. This may cause them to rely on social welfare for longer, not be able to pay their mortgages or meet their children’s basic needs, all of these things in the long-term would require more financial support from the state.
Covid-19 has further widened the gap between rich and poor globally. Jeff Bezos is on track to become a trillionaire by 2026, while the World Bank predicted in 2020 that Covid-19 will place 71 million people into extreme poverty. By using fines as the main deterrent not to breach Covid guidelines we would be promoting the distinction between the wealthy and the poor. It creates an attitude of one rule for them and another for everyone else. As seen with Golfgate despite the resignations and apologies, your position in Irish society can influence how the law treats you. As a country, this is something we should be working to move away from, by encouraging larger fines it would be something we accepted. Someone who has a lot of money does not see losing a small percentage of it as a reason not to do it, whereas for someone with no money the risk is infinitely higher. We should not encourage this disparity between rich and poor, we should not only criminalize people who cannot afford a fine.
Conspiracy theories and misinformation has been rampant during this pandemic. This has caused ‘anti-maskers’ to host large gatherings with no regard for social distancing or any other Covid-19 regulations. I do not believe that introducing large fines addresses the root of this issue and therefore it would not end the problem. If more money and time were invested into monitoring online forums where this information is spread, educating people about the dangers of conspiracy theories, and persecuting people who organize such demonstrations, we would be more likely to encourage people to adhere to Covid-19 regulations. Although fining them may be a short-term deterrent it does not deal with the real problem at hand and thus the problem will continue.
In conclusion, I do not believe there should be heavier fines for people found to be breaching Covid-19 regulations as it could have detrimental financial impacts on people, it punishes poor people more so than the wealthy and it does not deal with one of the root problems of people breaching guidelines.