Garda group queries vaccination priority list for prisoners and gardaí

Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors requests clarification from the Minister

AGSI called for a risk assessment. File photograph: The Irish Times

AGSI called for a risk assessment. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has asked the Minister for Justice to clarify if people in prison will be vaccinated before gardaí.

AGSI general secretary Antoinette Cunningham told RTÉ radio’s News at One that it would appear that was the case. She called for a risk assessment “between someone in a confined space and somebody on operational frontline being exposed on a continuous basis.

“They need to determine which of those risks is greater and which could be carried out first.”

Ms Cunningham said the AGSI was hoping to get clarity from the Minister about where gardaí were on the vaccination priority list.

“There are suggestions that we could be in group 10, but we don’t know for sure where we are. What we do know is that the policing of Covid-19 is becoming more difficult for us – with the fine weather there’s an increased appetite for public gatherings . . . and all of this creates a greater risk for the health and safety of our members.”

It had been very disturbing for her members when they read media reports about non-frontline HSE workers getting the vaccine.

“We don’t want to pitch ourselves against any group . . . but if the reports are accurate that people who work in a finance section of the HSE did receive vaccinations, then really you have to question where the governance and the accountability of the vaccination programme actually is.”

Ms Cunningham called on the Taoiseach to provide the clarity required for members of the gardaí. It was becoming increasingly challenging to police Covid-19, she said. “The dangers are increasing every day in the job we have to do.”

Prisoners and vaccination

Meanwhile, prisoners are expected to receive the vaccine as a single priority group, just ahead of prison service staff.

The Republic’s 3,800 prisoners would be vaccinated as part of group nine in the vaccine allocation strategy, said the Department of Health.

Group nine applies “to those aged 18-64 years who are living or working in crowded accommodation where self-isolation and social distancing is difficult to maintain”, said a spokeswoman.

It is understood that prison staff were expected to be vaccinated as part of group 10 which, according to the strategy, includes “key workers in essential jobs who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure to Covid-19”.

An IPS vaccine planning group has begun arrangements for the delivery of vaccines to prisons countrywide and vaccination locations have been selected. Vaccinations will be administered within the prisons in clinical areas.

As of March 1st, there had been 97 cases of Covid-19 in the prisoner population, of which 44 related to infections acquired in the community before the person arrived in prison. No prisoners have died as a result of the virus.

A total of 312 cases have been reported among prison staff.

Poor health

There have been calls for inmates and staff to receive priority access to vaccines given the confined nature of prisons and the often poor health of the prison population.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said as of last Friday no prisoner had received a vaccine. She said prisoners who met the criteria for earlier vaccinations “should be vaccinated at the same time as those groups in the community”.

Ms Ní Chinnéide said it was “simply not good enough to lock people up in cells until they are vaccinated” and prison officers should also be prioritised.

A system was needed to make sure those who received their first dose in custody were able to receive their second dose in the community if they were released in the interval, she said.

The Prison Officers Association said it had written twice to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee but had yet to receive official confirmation of when its members would be vaccinated.