Just one person was deemed by gardaí to be in breach of coronavirus emergency laws last week, new figures show.
Gardaí have arrested or taken the details of people suspected of breaching the regulations on 313 occasions since laws were introduced in response to the pandemic, an increase of six in the past week. However, all but one of the six incidents related to encounters which occurred in previous weeks.
The Garda must seek permission from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to bring charges in relation to the emergency legislation, introduced on April 8th.
The DPP has, to date, directed charges in relation to 94 incidents. No charge was directed in 25 incidents while the remainder “continue to be under criminal investigation”, a Garda spokesman said.
Two weeks ago gardaí lost the power to enforce coronavirus movement restrictions, meaning that even though people are meant to travel only within their county or 20km from their home, they cannot be arrested for breaching these limits.
As a result, gardaí can now prosecute only for offences such as organising large gatherings or opening restricted businesses ahead of schedule.
A major area of concern of late has been house parties, which gardaí admit they have little power to break up. Residents living around University College Cork (UCC) have complained to gardaí about the number of students who have rented houses in the area and held parties during the pandemic.
Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) president Barry O’Connor told the Irish Examiner this week that arresting and prosecuting half a dozen students would stop the partying. He also urged students to have respect for their neighbours. Garda sources have indicated that they have dealt with the issue within the powers available to them.
Anyone found drunk and disorderly in a public place can be dealt with under public order legislation, and there have been a number of people arrested for public order offences in the vicinity of UCC during the pandemic.
However, gardaí did not have any powers under the Covid-19 regulations to break up parties held in private houses once the attendees had entered the property.
The Garda Press Office said gardaí in Cork had increased patrols in the Magazine and College Road areas in line with the policing plan put in place during the pandemic.
“Where potential breaches of the Public Health Regulations are identified, and where a person does not comply with the regulations, a file is submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a direction as to how to proceed,” it said. “It is for a judge of the district court to decide on any actual penalty following a conviction.”
The latest figures show there have been 112 cases of people spitting or coughing at gardaí since the start of the pandemic, an increase of 12 in the past week. Gardaí have deployed spit hoods 78 times, an increase of three last week.