The announcement of enhanced restrictions on social movement changed the role of policing in the coronavirus crisis, the president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a new public health policy last Friday, asking people to stay in their homes to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Since then gardaí have been conducting increased patrols and have been stopping motorists to ask them where they are going. However, their efforts are not yet backed by any new powers.
Emergency legislation passed two weeks ago provides for extensive new powers for An Garda Síochána to police people’s movements in the context of the epidemic, and arrest people who fail to comply with their instructions.
The powers do not come into effect until regulations under the new law are signed by Minister for Health Simon Harris. His department and the Department of Justice are working on the regulations, but it is not clear when they will be ready for signing.
“Details of the regulations will be published as soon as they are available,” a spokeswoman for Mr Harris said.
Fit for purpose
The GRA held a conference call meeting with civil servants in the Department of Justice on Wednesday to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, its effect on policing and the proposed regulations.
“Both sides agreed to keep in contact over the coming weeks,” a spokesman for the department said.
President of the GRA Jim Mulligan said his association sought the meeting to impress upon the department the need to ensure that the forthcoming regulations are "robust and fit for purpose in respect of policing".
“The new restrictions also mean gardaí will have far more frequent interaction with the public, creating a greater need for personal protective equipment availability for guards – particularly face masks.”
This was in the interest of the health and safety of both the gardaí and the public, he said, adding that increased public interaction meant increased risk of gardaí becoming a vector for the virus.