Three chances to be given for breaching coronavirus restrictions

Gardaí advised to use four-step response to breaking unnecessary travel ban

Garda conduct a traffic checkpoint on the outskirts of Dublin, on Wednesday. Photograph: Paul Fait/AFP via Getty Images

Garda conduct a traffic checkpoint on the outskirts of Dublin, on Wednesday. Photograph: Paul Fait/AFP via Getty Images

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People caught by gardaí engaging in unnecessary travel this weekend will be given at least three opportunities to comply with the law before facing arrest.

The direction is contained in a document seen by The Irish Times which was issued to every superintendent on Wednesday, a day after gardaí were granted sweeping new powers to arrest and prosecute people failing to comply with travel restrictions designed to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The new powers of arrest remain in force until Sunday night but may be extended further. Under the emergency legislation, anyone travelling for non-essential reasons or exercising farther than 2km from home will be committing an offence.

Front-line gardaí are instructed to utilise a four-step “graduated policing response”, the final step being “enforcement”. Gardaí should give members of the public “every opportunity” to comply with the regulations with reference to the four-step plan.

“Enforcement will be a last resort and only when all other avenues have been exhausted in most cases,” the document states.

Vulnerable people

When speaking to people caught breaking the restrictions, gardaí have been instructed to remind them how social distancing will help the health service and reduce risk for vulnerable people.

Gardaí must also consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions before bringing charges under the new legislation. “This must be strictly adhered to,” the instructions state.

The instructions state the new restrictions should not be strictly applied to those facing the threat of domestic violence at home.

Gardaí “should be cognisant that it may not be safe for every individual to be in their home as there may be potential safeguarding issues (eg domestic abuse),” the instructions state. “If safeguarding issues are identified, members should revert to normal procedures to support such vulnerable individuals.”

The instructions concede that proper exercise of the new powers will not always be straightforward, “particularly in light of the discretion that is vested in Garda personnel”.

People may be travelling properly for essential work and may have supporting documentation to prove this. However, they are not obliged by law to carry such documentation, the direction notes.

The legislation is designed to bring about compliance, “not prosecutions per se”. Before resorting to arrest, gardaí must go through the four-step escalation process termed “Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce”.

Engage involves asking people their name and address, reason for travel and if they are aware of the restrictions. Gardaí may arrest anyone who refuses to give their name and address.

Non-compliance

If required they then move onto the “explain” stage, which involves highlighting the risks of breaking the rules.

They must then “encourage” those in breach to stay at home “to save lives”. The final step, “enforce”, involves using Garda powers to discourage further non-compliance. This should be done only when “necessary and proportionate”.

Gardaí must log all coronavirus-related incidents on the internal Pulse computer system “to enable accurate oversight and review of this extraordinary event”.

Members are reminded that human rights law “remains of paramount importance” and must be be adhered to, “including in times of emergency”.