Number of arrests for breaching Covid-19 restrictions increases significantly

Increased Garda activity has led to detection of nearly 1,200 offences unrelated to Covid-19

Garda checkpoints were in place across the Bank Holiday weekend. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill The Irish Times

Garda checkpoints were in place across the Bank Holiday weekend. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill The Irish Times

 

The number of people arrested by gardaí, or who had criminal proceedings begun against them, for breaching the 2km Covid-19 restriction increased significantly last week. Gardaí around the country have now arrested, or begun proceedings against, 139 people.

Almost 1,200 other crimes were also detected by gardaí during the Covid-19 enforcement operation. Furthermore, there have been 52 incidents in which gardaí have been deliberately coughed at or spat at while policing during the crisis.

In some 28 cases since April 8th gardaí have used so-called spit hoods on suspects; devices placed over the head to prevent a suspect spitting saliva or, at times, blood.

However, after conducting Operation Fanacht over the May Bank Holiday Weekend, members of the force have reported overwhelming compliance by the public with the Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Of some 13,324 drivers counted passing through four Garda checkpoints on Friday, May 1st, only 21 drivers in cars were stopped and told to go home because they did not have a valid reason for making their journey.

In an update about the Covid-19 policing operation released on Tuesday, Garda Headquarters said all 21 drivers told to end their journey and return home agreed to do so, meaning no action was taken against them.

The four sample checkpoints where the count was maintained were large ones, at unspecified locations, and where Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) technology was used to record the number of type of vehicle that passed through.

“The continued high level of compliance with the health guidelines is very welcome and we thank the public for it,” Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said of the low number of drivers “turned back” at checkpoints.

“Both the low level of ‘turn-backs’ at major checkpoints and the very small usage of the regulations compared to the huge number of interactions we have had with people show that the vast majority of people are playing their part in tackling Covid-19.”

Mr Harris said the Garda was continuing its approach of policing by consensus, adding arresting or commencing proceedings against suspects remained a last resort.

“Regrettably, we continue to see spitting and coughing attacks on our personnel. These are a significant health and safety risk to our members in the current environment. We must protect them from such disgraceful attacks,” he said.

“This includes having the option of using anti-spit guards in very limited circumstances. We have made it clear these anti-spit guards are only to be used as last resort.”

Exactly one week ago Mr Harris revealed there had been 76 people arrested or against whom a criminal process had begun, without the need to arrest them, under the Covid-19 operation to April 25th. That has now increased to 139 arrests or proceedings commenced in the period to May 2nd.

In the cases where proceedings were commenced against people for breach of the regulations but where the suspects were not arrested, the name and contact details of each person was taken and gardaí were due to consult with the DPP about each person facing criminal charges.

New powers were granted to the Garda on April 8th enabling them to arrest, or begin proceedings against, people who were found to be more than 2km from home without a valid reason, which can include shopping, attending medical appointments, urgent family visits or working in a post classified as “essential work”.

In the first 10 days of operation some 34 arrests or ‘proceedings commenced’ were confirmed. A further 42 arrests or ‘proceedings commenced’ had been recorded by April 25th. And now an additional 63 cases of arrest or ‘proceedings commenced’ were recorded in the week ending Saturday, May 2nd.

Aside from the arrests or ‘proceedings commenced’ in the past week for breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, the increased Garda activity, including checkpoints nationwide, has resulted in the detection of almost 1,200 offences not related to Covid-19.

Garda sources said these had included driving offences and having no tax or insurance, public order crime as well as some drug and weapons crimes. A total of 1,172 offences were detected under regular policing powers, not linked to Covid-19.

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