The Irish Public Discourse on Covid-19 at the Intersection of Legislation, Fake News and Judicial Argumentation

International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue Internationale de Sémiotique Juridique 35 (3):1233-1252 (2022)
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This paper aims to perform a multi-level analysis of the Irish public discourse on Covid-19. Despite widespread agreement that Ireland’s response was rapid and effective, the country’s journey through the pandemic has been no easy ride. In order to contain the virus, the Government’s emergency legislation imposed draconian measures including the detention and isolation of people deemed to be even “a potential source of infection” and a significant extension of An Garda Síochána’s power of arrest. In April 2020, journalists John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty initiated judicial review proceedings before the High Court to challenge such legislation, which they defined as unconstitutional, “disproportionate” and based on “fraudulent science”. The proceedings attracted widespread media coverage in what soon became a debate on the legitimacy of emergency legislation and the notion of ‘fake news’ itself. After a brief survey of the legislative background to Ireland’s Covid response, the argumentative strategy is analysed through which the High Court eventually dismissed Mr Waters and Ms O’Doherty’s challenge. Focusing on the process of justification of the judicial decision, the paper provides a descriptive account of the argument structure of the Court’s decision. This sheds light on the pattern of multiple argumentation through which the Court interpreted relevant norms in the Constitution and at once re-established the primacy of “facts” informing political decision-making at a time of national emergency.



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