Gardaí were regularly left fearing that they had passed Covid-19 on to vulnerable relatives as no isolation accommodation was provided for members during the pandemic, the Oireachtas justice committee will hear on Tuesday.
Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors (AGSI), says in her opening statement to the committee that many members had to cope with "genuine fears" around passing the disease on to elderly relatives.
Ms Cunningham says “no safe places” were allocated for gardaí to isolate in following contact with suspected Covid-19 cases at work, and members of the force were “were left with no choices” but to return to their homes.
The committee will hear from a number of organisations on the topic of policing and civil liberties during the pandemic on Tuesday.
The AGSI will express concern about the large number of times saliva or blood was spat at gardaí by members of the public during the pandemic.
“This was particularly distressing and difficult for members to deal with physically and emotionally,” Ms Cunningham says.
She felt more could have been done for gardaí when it came to priority testing, earlier access to vaccinations and isolation accommodation.
“Christmas and January 2021 were particularly challenging, with a large amount of the Garda workforce absent on Covid-related issues, and again members were very concerned about themselves and their families.”
Ms Cunningham says in her statement that the role of An Garda Síochána in the mandatory hotel quarantine system was “downplayed” at first, but later “became obvious very quickly when difficulties emerged”.
“Of particular concern here was the lack of vaccinations for gardaí assigned to deal with this duty, particularly when it emerged that all other parties involved in the process were vaccinated,” she says.
“This again was an area where much more could have been done much quicker to protect gardaí who felt very vulnerable in this disproportionately high-risk environment.”
Prof Pete Lunn, who tracked public behaviour during Covid-19 for the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), will tell the committee that Government decisions were often less restrictive than a majority of people would have liked.
Research showed that the proportion of people who felt the official response to the pandemic was too extreme never climbed above 10 per cent last year, he says in his submission to the committee.
“The evidence is unequivocal that prior to the most recent [third] wave of Covid-19 infections, Government decisions were consistently less restrictive than majority public opinion wanted,” he says.
“This remained true prior to Christmas, when average public opinion favoured a less liberal easing of restrictions than was implemented,” he will state.
Prof Caroline Fennell, a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, is to criticise the Government for blurring the boundaries between Covid-19 guidance and regulations, which she will say led to confusion among people.