Coronavirus: Gardaí to monitor 1,000 locations as Easter weekend approaches

Arrest ‘will not be first port of call’ for gardaí enforcing restrictions, commissioner says

New legal powers to curtail the movement of people mean that gardaí can now instruct someone to return home. If they fail to comply they face arrest, a fine of €2,500 or a six-month jail term. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Gardaí are monitoring more than 1,000 locations in the State for compliance with Government regulations on social distancing amid fears of public complacency about the spread of the coronavirus.

The locations include mountain walks, forest parks, beaches and others area that prove popular with people for recreational outings.

“We’ve identified a little over 1,000 locations and we have noticed a complacency, where people are beginning to get tired [of the measures],” Deputy Commissioner John Twomey told The Irish Times.

His comments echoed Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s view that “discipline is starting to slip a little”.

The senior gardaí were speaking following the granting of new powers to gardaí to arrest people who fail to comply with restrictions on movement over the coming bank holiday weekend.

The powers, which were signed by Minister for Health Simon Harris on Tuesday night, allow gardaí to arrest and prosecute anyone refusing to comply with instructions to avoid non-essential travel or exercise farther than 2km from their home.

People who fail to comply with Garda directions face a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a €2,500 fine.

“If your movement is not essential you will be asked to return to your place of residence,” the commissioner said on Wednesday amid concerns there will be a significant increase in people travelling to holiday destinations over the Easter weekend.

The commissioner said the vast majority of people have been complying with Government guidelines but added that “the discipline required to live by this medical advice is starting to slip a little”. This included people having house parties, exercising more than 2km from their home and travelling for non-essential reasons, he said.

“These are areas which made us need the regulations in terms of enforcing the restrictions.”

The Garda powers will remain in place until Sunday night and may be extended further. They forbid anyone from travelling except for essential purposes listed in the legislation.

Asked if people can travel to a family member to, for example, deliver Easter eggs, Mr Harris said this would “sadly” not be an essential journey. People could travel to a relative only if they were in urgent need, he said.

Arrest

Gardaí may also arrest people who refuse to give their name and address when asked.

In an bid to discourage people from travelling to holiday homes over the Easter weekend, the Garda have launched Operation Fanacht, which will see 2,500 gardaí deployed on the roads at any one time. Those found travelling to holiday homes will be turned back, gardaí warned.

The focus will be on national routes, Mr Twomey said. “Obviously everyone is now aware that the new regulations are in place, but we certainly see them as an absolute last resort.”

He added if people were stopped and they were found to be acting outside of the public-health measures in place they would be told to go home.

Mr Twomey said gardaí would not be taking names or addresses of people who comply with garda instructions.

“It’s only if someone says ‘No, I’m insisting on continuing on’, it’s only then that the conversation would continue on,” he said.

“Our wish is that we have no prosecutions and everyone listens to the advice because then we reduce the spread of Covid-19. We want to do this by consent, through community spirit.

Mr Harris also announced that “spit hoods” ordered by the Garda would be deployed from Wednesday. The hoods, which have been criticised by human rights groups, are placed over suspects’ heads to stop them spitting at gardaí or members of the public. The commissioner said they would be used very sparingly and only for the duration of the current crisis.

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