Gardaí are to be issued with controversial “spit hoods” to place over suspects’ faces during the coronavirus crisis.
The plastic devices have been criticised by human rights groups in the UK – where they are widely deployed by police forces – as dangerous and degrading.
The Garda has ordered 16,000 spit hoods, which cover the entire face of the detainee and stops them spitting at, coughing on or biting officers.
They are to be distributed to frontline members in the near future. In recent days there have been several reported incidents of people coughing on members of the public and gardaí while claiming to have coronavirus, which causes the disease known as Covid-19.
On Wednesday, Minister for Health Simon Harris said a couple purposely coughed on him before running off laughing as he walked to Government Buildings. He called the trend dangerous and pathetic.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) raised the issue of members being spat at and coughed on during the crisis in a meeting with management on Wednesday. Representatives were informed 16,000 of the hoods are currently on order.
They were also informed gardaí will also be issued with a supply of goggles. Supplies of gloves, wipes, sanitiser, face masks and protective suits have already been delivered to all divisions.
A Garda spokesman told The Irish Times the hoods would be deployed on a temporary basis for the duration of the current health crisis.
“Garda management continuously considers various forms of additional PPE [personal protective equipment] which could be deployed to operational gardaí,” he said.
He said gardaí would be briefed and trained in the deployment of the hoods before they were issued.
"An Garda Síochána takes the safety of the public and the safety of its members very seriously and is engaging with the staff representative associations on a daily basis."
It is understood the hoods will only be used on aggressive or threatening prisoners.
Such hoods are sometimes used by the Irish Prison Service when transporting prisoners. They have also been used in limited circumstances by the Garda, but this will be the first mass roll-out of the devices.
For several years many gardaí have been pushing for the general introduction of the hoods to prevent suspects spitting on them during arrest or transport.
Spit hoods were distributed to all members of London’s Metropolitan Police last year, even after the head of the force, Cressida Dick, said they put officers at greater risk of assault while trying to put them on suspects.
The move was condemned by human rights charity Liberty who said the hoods do “far more harm than good”.
“Forcibly covering people’s faces has been linked to deaths in custody and spit hoods have been used far too willingly on children and other vulnerable people,” the charity said.