Gardaí replace large-scale Covid travel checkpoints with posts on smaller roads

Short-term randomised mobile operation aims to encourage motorists to turn back

 Gardaí check motorists  on the N11 last year. Photograph: Bryan O Brien / The Irish Times

Gardaí check motorists on the N11 last year. Photograph: Bryan O Brien / The Irish Times

 

The large-scale garda operation used to police previous Covid-19 travel restrictions has been replaced with a series of randomised checkpoints on secondary roads.

Operation Fanacht was activated several times over the course of 2020 to stop people breaking the Covid-19 travel restrictions which varied between a 2km limit and a ban on intercounty travel at various points. It mainly involved large checkpoint on main, intercounty roads with the aim of discouraging non-essential travel.

With the reintroduction of Level 5 restrictions last week and a 5km travel limit except for essential journeys, the Garda has opted not to reintroduce Fanacht but to replace it with a more mobile operation, sources said.

The current Garda approach involves short-term, randomised checkpoints on smaller roads instead of the large checkpoints on motorways and national roads which caused large tailbacks in many areas.

“The logic is that by the time people have gotten to the motorway we would have missed the opportunity to engage with them and encourage them to turn back,” said a garda source.

“If you’re on the motorway you’ve already committed to doing what you’re doing and it’s a bit late.”

The new checkpoints are also intended to be more randomised than those under Operation Fanacht. Gardaí believe people seeking to avoid the travel restrictions had learned where the checkpoints were likely to be under previous lockdowns.

Checkpoints will last for an a hour or less before moving to a different location, instead of remaining in one place for most of the day as happened previously.

Sources said Garda management is monitoring traffic patterns and that Operation Fanacht may be re-introduced if it is judged necessary.

Individual gardaí still do not have the power to issue fines for breaches of travel restrictions, despite enacting legislation being introduced in November.

Fixed charge penalty notices (FCPNs) can be issued to people who refuse to wear face coverings in designated areas, such as in shops and on public transport, but the system for travel fines has yet to come online.

It is understood officials had hoped to avoid having to introduce a travel fine system altogether but that, given the dramatically worsening Covid-19 numbers, it may still be introduced.

High-visibility patrolling at parks, beaches and other recreational areas are continuing and the Garda is still available to assist vulnerable or elderly people in everyday tasks.

Meanwhile Covid-19 is affecting dozens of gardaí throughout the country on a scale not seen since the start of the pandemic. Fifteen gardaí in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) have tested positive for Covid-19 since Christmas, according to sources. In contrast, by mid-May only a dozen gardaí had tested positive in the entire country, almost three months after the virus had arrived in Ireland.

One of the latest cases is believed to involve a Garda contracting the virus during an arrest. The source of the other 14 Dublin infections is not clear. The outbreaks are across several stations in the city including Raheny, the Bridewell, Mountjoy and Store Street.It is understood the majority of gardaí involved had developed symptoms at home and had reported in sick before coming into work.

In Meath, two Garda units have been stood down after one garda tested positive and two others started displaying symptoms. A total of 20 gardaí in the region are off-duty and self-isolating as a result.