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Dublin businesses said images of gardaí enforcing Covid laws 'damaged' public's sense of safety

Businesses expressed frustration in a report examining policing during the pandemic.

Members of the An Garda Siochana Public Order unit in Dublin last month.
Members of the An Garda Siochana Public Order unit in Dublin last month.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

A REPORT ON policing in Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic has found that businesses felt that gardaí enforcing Covid laws in Dublin caused “reputational damage” for the city. 

The Report on Policing Performance by An Garda Síochána during Covid-19 is the 15th in a series of reports examining policing during the pandemic. 

It was submitted to the Minister for Justice on Monday.

The report contains submissions from businesses who expressed concerns about the perception of how safe Dublin was following scenes of gardaí dispersing crowds in the city centre last month.

A number of businesses told the Policing Authority that these had caused reputational damage to the city and had contributed to people’s unease at “coming to town”.

They also believe that images of gardaí wearing public order policing equipment was “damaging for business, tourism, investment and the confidence and sense of safety of people to come in and enjoy the city”. 

A number of clashes occurred between Public Order Unit gardaí and the public early last month, when large-scale crowds gathered in Dublin city centre. 

Over 30 people were arrested for public order offences and a number of gardaí were injured in the policing operations. 

The Garda response to the crowds divided public opinion, with Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan saying at the time that the response should have been managed in a more “thought-through way”.

download Public Order Unit gardaí dispersing crowds in Dublin last month. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Businesses told the Policing Authority that insufficient engagement with firms before the semi-reopening of hospitality in June, as well as insufficient planning, contributed to the clashes seen, saying “the trouble that erupted had been brewing for weeks”.

A strong view was expressed by organisations representing businesses that the call for gardaí to use discretion as a key approach during this time was unfair on them, and likely to result in inconsistent policing.

Examples were given of instances where gardaí had been observed engaged in a “robust
enforcement of the rules” around on-street drinking, while hours later the same behaviours by members of the public drew no response.

Commenting on the findings, Policing Authority chairperson Bob Collins said that there had been “some conflation” around the exercise of discretion and tendency to show preference in public commentary, and “it is necessary that the important distinction be emphasised”.

“The law binds us all equally, and while there is a proper place for the exercise of discretion in determining the best course of action where an immediate decision is required, being well known or knowing a guard, of whatever rank, is not a pathway to more favourable treatment,” he said. 

He also commented on the importance of the report in shaping policing going forward. 

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“These are not just theoretical reflections. They have real impact on how the Garda Síochána approaches the policing of remaining emergency regulations,” he said.

“And they have real impact also on how the work of policing is perceived, as well as on how it may be felt, by the population or by sections of it.” 

The report also found that 22,230 Covid related fines have been issued up to 8 July. 

Around 67% (14,882) of fines have been issued to people leaving their homes without a reasonable excuse. Attending events in dwellings accounted for 14.6% (3,249) of fines, while international travel accounted for 8.4% (1,863) of total fines. 

The fines total approximately €4.6 million. Around 48% of the fines have been paid to date, while 51% remain unpaid and either have or will result in court proceedings.

Those aged between 18-25 received the highest number of fines, accounting for 52% of all fines issued, while 74% of the total fines were issued to males.

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