Concerns raised about ‘inappropriate’ armed gardaí in Covid-19 operations

Council for civil liberties writes to Drew Harris about movement restriction checkpoints

Concerns have been raised about the “wholly inappropriate” use of armed gardaí at Covid-19 checkpoints.

In a letter sent to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Monday afternoon, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it had received reports from different parts of the country complaining about gardaí manning checkpoints while carrying firearms.

One of the reports referenced by the ICCL referred to a photograph, posted on social media by Iarnród Éireann, of detectives at Heuston Station apparently checking for breaches of the movement restrictions while carrying handguns in their holsters.

"Given the exceptional public health nature of these specific Garda operations, and the stated emphasis on encouraging compliance with the regulations, ICCL considers the participation of armed gardaí in such operations as wholly inappropriate," executive director Liam Herrick said before requesting further information on the use of armed members.


Pandemic policing

It was one of a number of issues raised by Mr Herrick in relation to policing during the pandemic.

He said members of the public have raised concerns that gardaí are not practising appropriate social distancing at checkpoints, which “may give rise of safety concerns for both gardaí and the community”.

He also asked if Garda policy on the user of pepper spray had been amended given the fact that Covid-19 specifically impacts the respiratory system.

There have also been complaints that gardaí on Covid-19 checkpoints in urban areas are engaging in “stop-and-search operations”against the public “including of shopping bags”.

The ICCL said there must be a clear distinction between normal policing operations and the enforcement of the Covid-19 restrictions.

‘Intimidatory’ elements

It also raised concerns about the use of the riot gardaí in Co Wicklow to support Covid-19 operations which it said was perceived as "intimidatory".

Members of the public have complained about the Garda’s interpretation of non-essential travel, the ICCL said. It called on the commissioner to clarify that it is not the Garda’s role to determine which grocery store can be used by a person or to determine which items are considered an essential purchase if they are bought from an essential business.

Mr Herrick also questioned Mr Harris about the apparent discrepancies in the Garda's approach to peaceful protests. It noted former Debenhams workers were prevented from protesting in Dublin while fishermen in Dingle and a group in the Four Courts were permitted to demonstrate.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times