Huge surge in Covid-19 fines imposed by Garda at start of year

Almost 10 times more fines imposed in first three months of this year than all of 2020

 Central Statistics Office figures  show there were 10,459 sanctions imposed by gardaí on people for breaking the regulations in the first three months of this year, compared to 1,090 sanctions in all of last year. File Photograph:  Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Central Statistics Office figures show there were 10,459 sanctions imposed by gardaí on people for breaking the regulations in the first three months of this year, compared to 1,090 sanctions in all of last year. File Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

 

The number of people in Ireland sanctioned for breaking Covid-19 regulations increased sharply in the first three months of this year, when almost 10 times more sanctions were imposed than in the whole of last year.

New crime data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), published on Thursday, shows there were 10,459 sanctions imposed by gardaí on people for breaking the regulations during the period, compared to 1,090 sanctions in all of last year.

The first three months of this year saw a prolonged period of strict lockdown after Covid-19 cases surged from the end of last year.

The surge in sanctions is being attributed to the fact a new fixed payment notice - or on the spot fines - system was introduced late last year. When gardaí were given the option of a much faster and less cumbersome way of penalising people, enforcement numbers immediately rose.

The true number of fines imposed in the first quarter of this year is likely to be much higher as the CSO said the figure includes unpaid fines and other offences, but does not include fines which were paid. This was due to “difficulties” with properly classifying and counting those cases.

The CSO data for other crimes not related to the pandemic reveals most offcences fell during the first 12-month period of the pandemic, to the end of March 2021. However, there were some exceptions, notably drug crimes, fraud and weapons offences.

Burglaries dropped by just over 45 per cent in the 12-month period to the end of June. Thefts were down 31 per cent in the same period and robberies were down by 26 per cent.

Assaults and related offences declined by 14 per cent in the year to the end of March.

Frauds increased by 14 per cent and Garda sources said that show the resilience of cybercrime during the pandemic.

Murders were down by 23 per cent while criminal damage was down by 11 per cent and public order offences also dropped by 11 per cent.

Sexual offences also decline, by three per cent, though that follows several years of record levels of reports of sex crimes.

Drug crime was up by 10 per cent and weapons offences - which included knife crime and firearms offences, among others - were up by eight per cent.

Last year, drug crime increased back to a level not seen since 2008, at the height of the Celtic Tiger. Garda sources said drug dealers and drug users found other ways to conduct drugs transactions when pubs and nightclubs close.

The CSO said it was continuing to publish all of its crime data “under reservation”, which means it is still working with An Garda Siochana to improve the reliability of crime data, which comes from the Garda and is counted and published by the CSO.

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys TD welcomed the drop in most crime types during the pandemic. However, while burglaries had fallen very significantly in the year to the end of March she said as society was re-opening householders need to be vigilant and practice crime prevention.

While the increase in drug crime was “a cause for concern” it also “reflects the increased number of gardaí on the frontline and the concentrated work of the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau”.