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'Disgraceful attacks': Gardaí were spat or coughed at over 50 times in recent weeks

Members of An Garda Síochána use anti-spit guards as a “last resort” in some incidents, Drew Harris said.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (file photo).
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (file photo).
Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

MEMBERS OF AN Garda Síochána were spat or coughed at over 50 times in recent weeks.

There has been an increase in such incidents in the last few weeks amid the Covid-19 restrictions.

From 8 April until 2 May, 52 incidents of spitting and/or coughing at gardaí were recorded. During the same time period, members of An Garda Síochána (AGS) had to use anti-spit guards 28 times.

Commissioner Drew Harris said, in general, there has been a high level of compliance with Covid-19 guidelines to date, thanking members of the public of their cooperation.

However, he said the coughing and spitting incidents are disgraceful.

“Regrettably, we continue to see spitting and coughing attacks on our personnel. These are a significant health and safety risk to our members in the current environment. We must protect them from such disgraceful attacks.

“This includes having the option of using anti-spit guards in very limited circumstances. We have made it clear these anti-spit guards are only to be used as a last resort,” Harris said.

When considering the use of anti-spit guards, members of AGS “must consider all available options and take into account the individual circumstance of the case, including the age of the subject and the particular potential vulnerability of juveniles”, a spokesperson added.

Anti-spit guards will be deployed as a temporary measure for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the AGS policy on anti-spit guards will be reviewed in September.

In a statement released today, AGS said there has been a high level of compliance with Covid-19 guidelines.

In recents weeks, gardaí have invoked regulations 139 times out of hundreds of thousands of interactions with members of the public, while re-existing enforcement powers have been used in 1,172 incidents.

The statement notes that there has been “a high level of compliance with the public health guidelines at the many checkpoints and high visibility patrols it is conducting at tourist locations, natural beauty spots, and parks and beaches”.

Checkpoints

Most people who are stopped at checkpoints are already in compliance with the guidelines or agree to take steps to become compliant, such as turning around when asked to by a garda, the statement adds.

The compliance rate was sampled at four of the larger checkpoints, one in each AGS region, last Friday, 1 May.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland technology was used to calculate the exact number of vehicles passing through the checkpoints. The system can distinguish between large commercial vehicles and cars or small vans.

Just 21 of the 13,324 car drivers checked – 0.16% – were requested to turn around for not having a valid reason for travel and all agreed to do so.

The statement notes that, in a small minority of cases across the country, “despite receiving a number of warnings, some individuals were still not willing to take steps to comply with the public health guidelines” and regulations set out in the emergency Covid-19 legislation were invoked by gardaí.

From 8 April, when the regulations came into effect, until 2 May, gardaí invoked the regulations 139 times. These include both incidents with and without arrests, where name and address details were taken for consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on the decision to issue charges.

“Arrest remains a last resort,” the statement notes.

Of the 139 incidents, two were as a result of an instruction from a relevant medical professional as set out under the new legislation.

In all cases where arrests were made under the regulations, gardaí consulted with the DPP on the decision to charge.

Some of these incidents are already before the courts.

In addition, pre-existing enforcement powers were used in 1,172 incidents where other offences were disclosed in the course of Covid-19 operations. These range from incidents such as drink-driving or disqualified drivers detected at checkpoints, to drugs and weapons seizures, to public order offences.

“The number of incidents involving other suspected crimes continues to far exceed the number of cases involving only breaches of government restrictions,” the statement adds.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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