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'Not a universal problem solver': Policing Authority cautions against more Covid-19 powers for gardaí

The Policing Authority’s monthly report on garda powers was published today.

Gardaí at a Covid-19 checkpoint (file photo)
Gardaí at a Covid-19 checkpoint (file photo)
Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

GARDAÍ HAVE USED emergency powers to enforce the wearing of face coverings just six times since the mandatory use of coverings in certain places was introduced this year.

Figures contained in a new report by the Policing Authority also show that garda powers have been used five times due to breaches relating to international travel since the end of June.

The statistics are presented in the eighth in a series of reports by the authority to provide an assessment of the application of the Covid‐19 regulations by gardaí.

In his introduction to the report, Policing Authority Chairman Bob Collins sought to temper calls to re-introduce powers that would allow gardaí to enforce Covid-19 restrictions set out in the five-stage Living with Covid plan.

“There is a genuine and well‐founded concern that extensive new powers for gardaí, and their widespread use, might not be the panacea that is sometimes thought,” Collins said.

“Increased enforcement is not a universal problem solver. And it is not difficult to envisage a situation where the very considerable support for the role played by the Garda Síochana might be affected as a consequence.”

He also said there was “little evidence” that additional powers given to police in neighbouring jurisdictions eradicated any undesirable behaviours.

Collins explained that a ‘soft’ approach to policing Covid‐19 restrictions remained the preferred option of both the Government and gardaí.

“The authority recognises the need for individual members of society to take personal responsibility for their actions particularly in light of the potential implications for public health,” he said.

“There is nevertheless a need for an early and visible presence, and a graduated and consistent response by the Garda Síochána.”

Spit hoods

The authority noted that there have been 62 new incidents where gardaí have used enforcement powers under the Health Act 2020 since the last report on 11 September.

The 62 incidents mostly relate to the inspection of licensed premises under Operation Navigation.

There have also been eight additional uses of controversial spit hoods recorded since the last report, including one more use on a child, bringing the total number of uses to 112.

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The hoods cover the heads of individuals who have been arrested in order to prevent them from spitting or coughing at police

As part of the report, the authority for the first time provided more detailed reports for 99 incidents where spit hoods were used.

In 14 incidents, gardaí perceived the detainee on whom a spit hood was used to have “obvious signs of a mental health issue”, though it was noted that this was not the case in 55 incidents and was unspecified in a further 30 incidents.

In one incident, a garda perceived an individual to have “obvious signs of a learning disability”.

And in 64 incidents where a spit hood was used, gardaí reported that detainees showed “obvious signs of intoxication”.

“While the authority’s reservations [about spit hoods] remain, it is positive to see the declining use of anti-spit hoods,” the report said.

The authority further reported that there were 14 additional incidents of gardaí being spat or coughed at since the last report, bringing the total to 206 since 12 April.

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