The Government is sticking with arrangements not to assign gardaí to police Covid-19 quarantine hotels, despite breaches resulting in three people leaving a hotel over the weekend.
The three absconded on Saturday, the day after hotel quarantine began. Two were subsequently found and returned to the hotel to complete their 12-day quarantine period.
The third man who absconded is still at large. Gardaí suspect he may have travelled to Northern Ireland and that this was always his intention.
Private security working for the Tifco hotel group, the operator of the system, manage security at the Crowne Plaza, the hotel being used for quarantine near Dublin Airport.
Defence Forces personnel are stationed at the hotel in a co-ordinating role. But neither the Defence Forces nor private security have legal powers to stop people leaving.
The Garda are responsible for investigating any people who breach mandatory rules if they leave the hotel but they are not assigned to the Crowne Plaza to monitor compliance.
People can be fined up to €2,000 or face imprisonment of up to on month for breaches. The Defence Forces act as State Liaison Officer for the hotel operator and private security and co-ordinate with gardaí should they have to be called over any suspected offences.
Government sources said there were no plans at present to ask the Garda to maintain an on-site presence at the hotels. “It is going to take time for this system to bed down. It was always anticipated that there would be bumps in the road,” said one source.
Despite the breaches over the weekend, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said the Government expected public compliance with the hotel mandatory quarantine system “to be high”.
“It is important to remember that arrivals who are placed in mandatory quarantine are not prisoners, nor have they committed a crime,” said the spokesperson.
“Therefore, it would not be appropriate to have gardaí permanently stationed at designated facilities. However, the gardaí are there to investigate and police any breaches of the law.”
It is understood there had been tensions between the Departments of Health and Justice around policing the system. Security sources have said gardaí made their views known to Government at an early stage in relation to mandatory quarantine and said that the role of the force should be to step in when someone has left the facility before they were supposed to. The Defence Forces also expressed concern about the involvement of military personnel in security and enforcement of the hotel quarantine rules.
Overseas the failure to use police to manage security at quarantine hotels and other facilities has led to breaches and spread of the virus into the community. In Australia an inquiry last year heard the use of private security led to the virus escaping quarantine in Victoria, causing the deaths of 768 people and the infection of 18,418 others in a second wave.