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Gardaí were spat at over 200 times this year during Covid crisis

The Garda National Vetting Bureau has published stats on the number of times enforcement powers were used during the pandemic.

File photo. Garda checkpoint in Dublin last April.
File photo. Garda checkpoint in Dublin last April.
Image: Shutterstock/lensmen

AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA detected over 400 alleged breaches under the powers granted to them during the Covid crisis, such as potential flouting of domestic travel restrictions, face covering restrictions and other restrictions such as the organisation of events.

The majority of these – 358 – occurred during the initial lockdown period between 8 April and 28 June according to data from the Garda National Vetting Bureau (GNVB).

Of these, 245 have had proceedings commenced against the individuals involved. 

And, between 29 June and 5 December, a further 74 alleged breaches were recorded and proceedings commenced in five of these cases. 

Each time a breach of the health legislation is detected, gardaí must refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for proceedings to be commenced.

When first introduced, the powers were made available to gardaí to use as a “last resort” if people refused to comply with Covid-19 guidelines. 

An Garda Síochána has said it prefers to secure compliance through consent rather than enforcement in these matters. Compliance with guidelines was also frequently reported to be very high. 

The expanded powers given to gardaí allowed for a fine of up to €2,500 or six months in jail if people breached guidelines such as the requirement to stay in their county, organised an unlawful gathering or, later, failed to wear a face gathering on public transport.

Specifically on face-covering regulations, gardaí have reported nine alleged breaches of this legislation. So far, none of these have had proceedings commenced.

The use of controversial spit hoods has been recorded 118 times during the pandemic. Anti-spit hoods are full mesh hoods that are placed through force over the entire head of a person in Garda custody.

Gardaí have reviewed the practice, which the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has called “humiliating”. 

There have been a further 231 incidents reported where garda members have been spat upon during the pandemic. In 136 of these cases, proceedings have commenced.

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Under Operation Navigation – where gardaí inspect pubs and restaurants to ensure they’re adhering to the guidelines – alleged breaches have been detected on 326 occasions from 3 July up to 5 December. Of these, 47 have had proceedings initiated against the alleged offender. 

Gardaí recommenced the operation on a large scale earlier this month, when premises that serve food were permitted to re-open during the loosening of restrictions. 

During the period of Level 5 restrictions, covering 22 October to 30 November – gardaí detected 28 alleged breaches at licenced premises. 

Operation Treoraím was established on 25 October to ensure retail outlets that remained open during Level 5 were selling essential items only. During this period, 87 alleged breaches were identified. 

The Policing Authority – which provides statutory oversight to An Garda Síochána – has generally commended the gardaí’s approach during the pandemic. 

After a sitting of the authority last month, its chairperson Bob Collins said: “From the outset of this public health crisis, the Garda Síochána has been called on to assume a role that touches on very many aspects of the lives of all who live in this state. It has taken an extraordinary effort to organise and deploy the level of resources that have been assigned to this work.

All elements of this response make their own contribution to the overall outcome that is desired, but some will have longer lasting significance than others. In terms of safety and social impact, the echoes of the work on sexual crime, on domestic violence and on community engagement will resound for a very long time.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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