Covid-19: Revellers flouting restrictions may face tougher controls

Garda has no power to disperse groups socialising on streets or close pubs on the spot

Even before the weekend, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his senior management team were concerned that gatherings of revellers, in pubs and on streets outside, were posing a health risk.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Even before the weekend, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his senior management team were concerned that gatherings of revellers, in pubs and on streets outside, were posing a health risk. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Tougher controls may be introduced for pubs amid growing concern about large groups of revellers flouting Covid-19 public health measures.

Concern grew over the weekend within An Garda Síochána about large groups of people congregating to socialise on the streets following the reopening of some pubs, with senior officers saying gardaí effectively had no power to police the problems.

A spokeswoman for new Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said, in response to queries: “The guidelines are there to protect staff and customers. Everyone has a responsibility to follow them. Government are monitoring the situation very closely and may take further steps now or in considering the next phase of lifting of restrictions if necessary.”

The issue came into focus following a large gathering of revellers on Dame Lane in Dublin city centre on Saturday, when hundreds of people congregated in the narrow street, where many people were drinking.

Even before the weekend, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his senior management team were concerned that gatherings of revellers, in pubs and on streets outside, were posing a health risk.

Upgraded

In response, plans to carry out “spot checks” on pubs were upgraded to directing Garda members to inspect all pubs in their districts under the new Operation Navigation.

Dublin-based Garda officers said while Dame Lane had become popular for outdoor gatherings during the lockdown, crowds also gathered outside a number of venues at the weekend, with many people not socially distancing, yet gardaí who witnessed it were powerless to act.

“We’ve been told to inspect the pubs to make sure people are taking account of the Covid-19 precautions, but if we find they’re not doing that, we have no power to do anything about it,” said one source.

Gardaí can share concerns they have about pubs with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which can apply to the High Court for a closure order on health risk grounds. Gardaí can also take note of any examples of a pub being mismanaged and use that to object to the renewal of a pub’s licence at a later date.

Enforcement

However, there are no instant enforcement options open to gardaí that would allow for the on-the-spot closure of a pub or dispersal of a crowd.

Garda sources who spoke to The Irish Times said they believed the HSE, which polices the smoking ban, should assume responsibility for policing Covid-19 measures in pubs. However, if the Garda was to continue carrying out inspections, new regulations were required so they could enforce the measures.

The same sources said many pubs had followed the Covid-19 guidelines meticulously and a large number of publicans who were now allowed to open had chosen not to.

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