A mismatch between the Covid-19 restrictions in place in the Republic and the North was “going to cause difficulty” for gardaí enforcing the rules, the force’s middle ranking officers have said.
General Secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi), Antoinette Cunningham, said the issue was of particular concern for Garda members in the Border region who were meeting people from the North coming into the Republic for the day.
In the Republic people have been told they must stay within 2km of their homes when they exercise. However, that rule cannot apply to people from Northern Ireland as their homes are not in the Republic, unless they are staying overnight in a holiday home or other accommodation,
Ms Cunningham said gardaí were undertaking a four-step process with people in relation to the Covid-19 restrictions. This meant engaging with them and explaining the rules while also encouraging them to comply and using enforcement if the people did not comply.
“It now would appear for us and our members that there is a difficulty with the enforcement part of that process for people who come over from Northern Ireland,” she said.
"In places like Donegal we see a very significant amount of cross-border traffic so this is going to create difficulty for us," she said.
“But our management have been very clear in our guideline to us and that has been that the enforcement part of this for people from Northern Ireland does create a difficulty and, as such, cannot be applied to those people.”
She believed an all-Ireland approach “is probably what’s needed”, though that was an issue for garda members to comment on. Garda members, she added, would continue to focus on informing people about the dangers of the virus and urge them to comply with the measures in place.
Security sources said there were always a large number of legal and enforcement issues that arose between any two jurisdictions, saying the problem was not unique to Covid-19 and not unique to the island of Ireland.
They pointed out while people could be extradited from one country to another to face serious criminal charges, when it came to more minor crimes or civil matters extradition could not be used and people could evade or frustrate justice by crossing a border.
Another source could not see any way the Irish Government could frame legislation to extend the 2km rule to include people who do not have homes in the Republic or who were not staying at accommodation in the Republic.
“We can’t reach into the North with our laws in the same way our gardaí can’t cross the Border during a chase, there has never been any way around that.”
However, sources pointed out that coughing or spitting at a garda could be deemed assault and that failing to comply with a direction from the Garda was also an offence and could be extended to anyone visiting from the North.
He did not believe these issues were anomalies or oversights but rather examples of how the legal systems in any two jurisdictions “never knit together perfectly”.
In reply to queries from The Irish Times, Garda Headquarters said aside from the specific new powers granted to gardaí to enforce the Covid-19 restrictions, gardaí had a range of other powers they could use. These included long-standing laws in place relating to public order and road traffic offences as well as assault and drug crime.
“An Garda Síochána does not comment on legal advice it receives on specific issues nor on consultation with Government departments on relevant legislation,” it said. “The detail of a particular piece of legislation is a matter for the relevant Department.”
In reply to queries, the Department of Health said: “The provision in the regulations on not leaving their place of residence does not apply to people from other jurisdictions who are visiting the State but are not staying the night as they do not have a temporary place of residence here.”
However, it added the other restrictions such gatherings of people not being permitted, applied to all, including those who were not resident in the Republic.