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This map shows a breakdown of where Gardaí have used Covid-19 powers

The Policing Authority has said Garda powers to enforce Covid restrictions should be as limited as possible, and used sparingly.

Garda map Source: Policing Authority report

THE POLICING AUTHORITY has issued a report detailing the number of times Gardaí used enforcement powers in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The North Western Region accounted for 242 incidents since 8 April, and remains the region with the highest number of incidents where Covid-19 powers were used.

Galway and Cavan/Monaghan remain the two divisions with the highest number of incidents where Covid-19 regulations are used by Gardaí, but the Policing Authority report said that an “examination of data at station level does not identify any issues of the use of powers being centralised in one locality”.

Policing Authority Reported use of Covid-19 policing powers by Garda Division, 8 April - 31 October. Source: Policing Authority report

Since 8 April, the Garda Síochána have exercised powers under Covid-19 regulations 702 times.

In the past month, there have been 103 incidents where Gardaí had to use powers under the Covid-19 regulations, with most of these relating to inspecting licenced premises. 

Garda Síochána have reported over 50,000 visits to licensed premises, of which approximately 60% were recorded as being closed.

Around 3,900 inspections were carried out over the Bank Holiday weekend of 23-26 October, with 80% of licenced premises inspected recorded as being closed.

Excluding Operation Navigation, there have been 394 incidents where powers under the Covid-19 regulations were used, of which 353 relate to breaches which occurred during the initial lockdown and subsequent policing of the pandemic up to 28 June.

(Operation Navigation is where Garda members conduct spot checks to see if Covid-19 guidelines are being followed, for example, at a pub to see if substantial meals are served.)

Since 28 June, the Garda Síochána have reported the following non-Operation Navigation enforcements:

  • 8 incidents relating to breaches regarding face coverings;
  • 5 incidents relating to breaches regarding international travel;
  • 11 incidents of suspected breaches of regulations by retailers and,
  • 37 incidents relating to other breaches (for example, organising events)

Graph gardai Source: Policing Authority report

The use of anti-spit hoods has also decreased, from 30 times in April and 36 in May, to 6 in September and 5 in October. These hoods have been used most frequently in the Dublin Metropolitan Region, which accounted for 51 of 118 incidents. In 74 incidents the Garda member perceived the detainee to show ‘obvious signs of intoxication’.

The 15-page report covers up to 31 October, and so doesn’t cover the full period of the Level 5 restrictions which were brought in on Wednesday 21 October, or the new Garda powers that were introduced last month. 

New Garda enforcement powers were signed into law last month: giving them the powers to fine people who organise house parties or who break other Covid restrictions. These are ‘fixed penalty notices’ – though the Authority says there is “some work required to actually implement the system of fines”, adding it “may be some time” before a Garda issues one of these fines. 

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Graph 2 A graph on checkpoints. Source: Policing Authority report

The Policing Authority said that deciding what is an essential retailer, policing the border counties, and policing anti-mask protests are among the difficulties faced by the force:

…There has been added complexity through the increased remit in what is counted as “essential retail” with some retailers attempting to stay open by stocking items which are deemed essential while still selling items which are not deemed essential, and confusion as to what products are essential. This has created an addition avenue for the Garda Síochána to police which is not solely a resource challenge but also a challenge to the consistency in policing, given lack of definition and degree of interpretation in this area.
…The policing of protests is an ongoing challenge for the Garda Síochána, particularly with respect to those protests against the use of facemasks and the Covid-19 restrictions themselves. The facilitation of police protests in the context of the pandemic remains a risk. If not properly managed, it presents the potential for negative engagement between protestors from different sides and between protestors and Gardaí.

The Authority has said repeatedly that emergency powers for Gardaí should be “as limited as possible and used as sparingly as possible”.

In its report today, it explains the thinking behind this view: “One of the virtues of the penal provisions introduced thus far has been that they involve referral by the Garda Síochána to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That has been an important source of detached decision-making in respect of emergency powers and the decisions thus taken represent an important setting of standards.

“The fixed penalty notice does not have such an in-built check,” it added.

“There may be significant value in their introduction so relatively close to the projected end of the Level 5 stage being the subject of further consideration.”

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