Coronavirus: ‘We are not here to go and hide in the Garda station’

Gardaí are reaching out to those stranded in their homes due to the national lockdown

Dublin city centre is so quiet on Saturday at midday, the first day of the national lockdown, that you can hear the church bells without the muffled constraints of endless traffic.

There is nobody else on Townsend Street when Susan Lawlor and Mark Walsh, two community gardaí based at Pearse Street station, make their first call of the day.

In normal times, their job is to know one of the most challenged districts in the State. Usually, they ride mountain bikes. Today, they use rental vehicles to carry supplies, helped by a rental phone courtesy of the Government.

Occasionally, in the past, their role has involved shopping and getting prescriptions for socially-isolated people. In the coronavirus world we now live in, everyone is socially isolated, but some more so than others.

“On this kind of scale, nobody is used to this,” Garda Walsh says as he lifts a box, “We have a job to do. We are not here to go and hide in the station.”

Aine Wellard (55) is a visually-impaired woman who lives alone. For a long time, she has been a frequent sight walking past The Irish Times building on her way to the shops with her stick and her seven-year-old collie cross, Amber.

Fiercely independent, Wellard knows well that going out now brings risks, and possible infection. Having recovered from a serious chest infection earlier in the year, venturing out is no longer worthwhile.

“I’m perfectly mobile. I’m not confined to the house for mobility reasons, but I can’t get on a bus without touching something,” she says.

“I’ve been on an isolation ward before all this happened. The doctor who discharged me on March 13th told me, ’this is going to explode in two weeks’.”

Rescue dog

She needs a prescription for Amber, a rescue dog, who suffers from anxiety. When she picked her up from the Cara Rescue Dog Home in Co Laois, Amber had 53 gunshot pellets in her foot and may have been traumatised as a result.

The two gardaí promise to take the dog for a walk, but Amber is not budging, possibly because she is put off by the bright yellow fluorescent jackets. The gardaí promise to call back.

"It is great to know that there is a service out there if you are really stuck that you can call upon," says Ms Wellard who is originally from England.

“I don’t have family over here. There are not too many people I can call on and say, ’I’m really sick. Can you go and get that for me or get this for me?’”

Next stop is the Eurospar on Windmill Lane opposite the Pearse House flats, where the gardaí place a notice saying that anybody who needs help "big or small" should contact them. This is followed by a check on the Pearse House flat complex, which is one of the biggest and oldest local authority housing schemes in Dublin.

The open balconies and communal play area have forged a strong sense of community, but it’s also the kind of place where the virus can spread very rapidly. Fortunately, it has not to date.

At Cahill's Allcare pharmacy on Camden Street they pick up a large prescription for an elderly man who lives in Iveagh Trust apartments in New Bride Street.

Reduced staff

The chemist has closed on this day because of reduced staff, but pharmacist Ewa Ficenes opens it up for the two gardaí. "With a vulnerable patient being at risk, you have to step up," she says. "It is really important that we all work together."

The patient lives on the top floor. He has enough food, but seems a bit confused as to what he can or cannot do. “Is going to the shop against the rules?” he asks. “That’s not a problem,” says Garda Lawlor. “If you want the community policing lads to drop in, just let us know.”

Further drops are made in Terenure, Dundrum and Castleknock to people in normal circumstances who would look after themselves, but are now stranded by the necessary restrictions.

Once Covid-19 “happened”, Garda Lawlor says they moved quickly to contact the vulnerable. Many are poor, but not all, added Garda Walsh. “There are a lot of rich, and not so rich unfortunately. We are here to help everybody.”