People who breach the Government's Covid-19 restrictions can be issued with an on-the-spot fine of up to €500 under legislation to be passed in the coming days, the Cabinet has agreed.

The legislation will pave the way for proportionate fines for those who hold house parties, travel beyond the 5km limit or refuse to wear a face covering.

However, this legislation will not be in place by midnight tomorrow when the new restrictions kick in.

This means that the current penalty of €2,500 or up to six months in prison will apply for travel restriction breaches until the new law is passed.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said people will always be given a chance to comply with the restrictions and fines will only be used as a last resort.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, she said that up to now where there have been provisions that have penalties, the vast majority of people have complied and there have been very few incidents where fines have been issued.

Minister McEntee said that in recent weeks there had been a breakdown in this and it has become apparent that house parties, gatherings and celebrations have caused the coronavirus to spread. 

She said the Government was trying to send a signal that this behaviour was not okay and there was a difference between those who adhere to the guidelines and those who do not.

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Earlier, the Cabinet decided to increase the number of people who can attend a funeral during the period of Level 5 restrictions from 10 to 25.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen, who called for the change last night, said it was "a compassionate and welcome acknowledgement that this was addressed so quickly".

Minister of State Robert Troy also welcomed the decision, saying it would help "those dealing with grief and loss in this difficult time".

The Cabinet also agreed to ban evictions while people's movements are restricted.

A new bill to enforce the provision will be brought through the Oireachtas this week by Minister for Housing, Darragh O'Brien.

The moratorium will be tied to the length of time severe restrictions on movement are in place and can be reactivated should the country enter severe restrictions in the future.

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Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr O'Brien said he expects a bill to go before the Seanad and Dáil this week to put the decision to ban evictions into law.

The Government is also facing calls to step up protections for mortgage holders in the period ahead, with Sinn Féin urging the administration to meet the banks.

Mr O'Brien said that both Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath will be engaging with the banks and mortgage providers to discuss arrangements for mortgage repayments for those affected further by increased restrictions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that if the country pulls together it will be possible to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.

The Social Democrats said the prospect of some normality at Christmas is an incentive to work hard, but this time must be used to devise an agreed medium-term strategy, while Labour leader Alan Kelly said the hope of some Christmas celebrations will build social solidarity.


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Separately, the full letter from Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, to the Minister for Health has been published.

In the correspondence, sent on 15 October, Dr Holohan says the National Public Health Emergency Team reiterated its recommendation to apply Level 5 measures across the country for a period of six wees.

Meanwhile, Minister O'Brien said the six-week period of Level 5 will be kept under review, but that this is the length of time advised by NPHET.

He rejected the suggestion that the decision to increase restrictions is a U-turn by the Government and said that the virus "doesn't adhere to any particular plan" and the coalition must be able to adapt at the right time.

Mr O'Brien said we may have to vary our approach to Covid-19 over the coming months and pointed out that other countries, including Sweden and Belgium, are being forced to rethink their strategies.

Also speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin's finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty welcomed last night's Level 5 announcement, saying it was clear that Level 3 has not worked.

Mr Doherty said the increase to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is to be welcomed, although he believes the Government could have gone further in terms of supports.

He called on the Minister for Finance to call in the banks and ask them to do the right thing and start accepting applications from mortgage holders who need a payment moratorium, adding there should be an industry-wide break for those who have lost their job or lost income as a result of Covid-19.

Additional reporting Mícheál Lehane and Fergal O'Brien