Garda declines to release ‘spit hoods’ usage figures

Policing Authority concerned hoods will be used on teens

The Policing Authority and the Minister for Justice have say there has been ‘minimal use’ of the hoods so far.  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Policing Authority and the Minister for Justice have say there has been ‘minimal use’ of the hoods so far. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Garda has declined to release figures for the number of times its members have used controversial “spit hoods” since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

However the Policing Authority, which is overseeing the Garda response to the virus, has said it will release the figures on a fortnightly basis going forward.

It comes as the chairperson of the authority expressed concern about the lack of “explicit guidelines” on the use of the hoods on teenagers.

The fabric and mesh spit hoods are designed to be placed over a suspect’s head to prevent them from spitting at others.

The Policing Authority and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan have said there has been “minimal use” of the hoods so far. However both the authority and the Garda declined to release precise figures when asked by the The Irish Times on Wednesday.

“An Garda Síochána will not be providing data on the use of ‘anti-spit guards’ on an ongoing basis,” a Garda spokeswoman said, adding it is already providing the data to the Policing Authority.

“It is the intention of the authority to publish information regarding the use of anti-spit hoods by the Garda Síochána in its next report to the Minister,” a Policing Authority spokeswoman said.

‘Considerable reluctance’

In its latest report, the authority said it views the introduction of the hoods “with considerable reluctance”.

Chairman Bob Collins said on Wednesday it is also worried that Garda procedures state only that the hoods are not to be used on children under 12 and was “silent” on their use on children aged 12-18.

He said he had requested clarification from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the issue and wants the use of spit hoods to be recognised as a “use of force”, which requires a process of open reporting.

Mr Collins also said he was “somewhat reassured” by the commissioner’s “clear indication” that the use and availability of the hoods will be strictly limited to the current crisis.

He also disputed the accuracy of figures “in the public domain” regarding the number of spit hoods that have been ordered, but did not clarify the number. The Garda Representative Association has told its members 16,000 hoods have been ordered, raising concerns from the Irish Council of Civil Liberties that they may be used beyond the conclusion of the Covid-19 crisis.

Deployed

Mr Collins went on to say that the Policing Authority was also concerned that Garda recruits who have not yet completed their training were being deployed in the current crisis.

He said he understood that the commissioner did not envisage the recruits would use their Garda powers, but he was concerned they would find themselves in situations of difficulty without those powers.

They should be accompanied at all times and operate only in an assisting capacity, he said.

The limitation of their powers was welcome, he said, but he wanted an assurance that they will return to the Garda college to resume training before passing out.