Several arrested as Tony Holohan expresses shock at ‘open air party’ in Dublin city centre

HSE chief Paul Reid warns there are still many risks to be protected against

May 30th, 2021: Eyewitness footage has captured large crowds gathering in Dublin city centre on the evening of Saturday, May 30th. Video: Ronan McGreevy/John Collins

 

A total of 16 arrests were made in Dublin and Cork for public order offences this weekend following large outdoor gatherings.

The arrests came after chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was “absolutely shocked” at scenes of large crowds gathered in Dublin city centre on Saturday evening.

Dr Holohan tweeted: “Drove into Dublin City Centre to collect someone from work at 8.15 PM. Absolutely shocked at scenes in South Great George’s St, Exchequer St, South William St area.

“Enormous crowds – like a major open air party. This is what we do not need when we have made so much progress.”

On Sunday, crowds gathered for a second night in a row in Dublin city centre.

Gardaí cleared large numbers of people from St Stephen’s Green, and confiscated alcohol.

A Garda spokesperson said a policing operation was in place in respect of the current public health regulations which limit the numbers attending organised events.

The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he shared the concerns of the chief medical officer. He warned that something similar could happen next weekend, which is a bank holiday weekend, if the weather is good.

Image: Paul Scott/The Irish Times
Image: Paul Scott/The Irish Times

“It is very disappointing that we witnessed the scenes that we saw in Dublin yesterday. We are encouraging people to get outdoors, and it’s much safer to be outdoors than indoors. But the rules still apply. People shouldn’t be meeting up in groups of more than three households and should try to observe social distancing. We would certainly share the CMO’s concerns in relation to that,” he said,

“But I would say, on the seventh of June, we will see outdoor hospitality reopening. And I think what we’re going to see on our streets is something a bit more organised because of the fact that pubs and bars and restaurants will be able to open their doors so that’s a positive move.”

The Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said on Sunday it was “really disappointing to see the scenes last night” while Minister of State Thomas Byrne warned of the need for adherence to Covid-19 public health advice to avoid a reversal of the easing of restrictions announced on Friday.

On Sunday morning, HSE chief executive Paul Reid warned there are still many risks to be protected against.

“Let’s not forget, it has been the Irish people, young and old, who have got us to be in a much better place with Covid-19. So many sacrifices have been made. There’s still many risks to be protected against, but let’s not loose trust in people doing the right thing,” he said on Twitter.

There were thousands of people in Dublin city centre on Saturday night with many pubs serving takeaway pints.

The area around Fade Street, Drury Street and Exchequer Street was packed, with a large number of young people sitting outside on the streets drinking.

In the adjacent St Stephens’s Green, some drinkers kicked a football around while the crowd cheered.

Darren O’Driscoll said he was having pints “because there is nothing else to do. He has us in lockdown about four years at this stage”.

Meanwhile Galway City Council reinstated restrictions at the area known as the ‘Middle Arch’ – between Wolfe Tone Bridge and Claddagh Quay – at the request of gardaí.

“This measure will provide assistance in relation to social distancing,” it said pointing out large crowds had been gathering in recent days.

“This temporary closure under Covid-19 restrictions will be in place for a number of weeks,” it added.

People enjoying the fine weather at the Spanish Arch in Galway on Saturday. Photograph: Andy Newman
People enjoying the fine weather at the Spanish Arch in Galway on Saturday. Photograph: Andy Newman

Four arrested

Asked about the policing of the crowds as depicted by video content on Twitter, An Garda Síochána said on Sunday morning it does not comment on any third-party social media content.

It said a policing operation was put in place by gardaí following reports of a large numbers of people gathering at South William Street and adjoining streets in the Dublin 2 area on Saturday evening.

“The operation involved gardaí from the public order unit and the dog unit and the crowd was subsequently dispersed. Four persons were arrested for public order offences,” it said.

“Persons congregating in Temple Bar and St Stephen’s Green were also dispersed by gardaí. No arrests were made.”

It also said 12 people were arrested in Cork city in similar circumstances. Gardaí on patrol observed a large number of persons congregating in the city centre and adjoining areas on Saturday evening. “Uniformed gardaí with the assistance of the public order unit dispersed a crowd at the city centre and, later in the evening, the Kennedy Quay and Grand Parade areas,” it said.

In a statement it added that as public health regulations continue to be reduced and activity begins to normalise An Garda Síochána continues to remind the public of the ongoing public health guidelines, which include not to gather in large groups, maintain social distancing and wearing of face coverings in crowded public spaces. “An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to the public to avoid crowded areas and large gatherings.”

The Garda has and will continue to adopt, a graduated policing response based on its tradition of policing by consent. This has seen gardaí engage, educate, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce, it stated.

Powers

Dublin City Council said it had “very few powers” to deal the type of gatherings that took place in the city centre at the weekend. The crowds were centred around the council’s new pedestrian zones on South William Street and Dame Court. Car-free areas have been implemented on these streets as well as on Drury Street and South Anne Street ahead of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions on outdoor dining from next week.

The council said its staff were deployed to a number of street in the city on Sunday morning to deal with the “significant amount of waste left behind overnight”.

Such gatherings were “contrary to current public health regulations” the council said and it would “encourage all citizens and businesses to act in a responsible manner and adhere to public health regulations”.

However, it said: “These gatherings are not planned events and as such Dublin City Council has very few powers to deal with them.”

It said it would review the situation this week and “discuss it with other stakeholders”.

‘Careful’

Mr McConalogue said it was “really disappointing to see the scenes last night”.

“I will concur with the CMO Tony Holohan because the key thing as we do go forward now is that everybody does work to the plan and sticks with the plan, because it is working. By sticking to it we will see everyone be able to get back to a more normal life over the summer,” he told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

Independent TD Verona Murphy said she did not think anyone would condone the scenes but said she was “surprised at Tony Holohan’s reaction.”

“I don’t know what he expected to see after we have endured the longest lockdown within the EU.”

Mr Byrne appealed for “strategic patience” following the gathering of large crowds on Saturday in Dublin city centre and in other urban areas across the country.

He said people had great respect for the Chief Medical Officer and “to be honest I think he has a point”, following Dr Holohan’s tweet about his shock at the large crowds in Dublin.

The Minister said he had never been into criticism of people when they make mistakes with the Covid-19 rules.

But he warned that travel restrictions are “hugely dependent” on the numbers of Covid-19 cases and “when large crowds gather there’s no doubt that Covid will spread”.

Mr Byrne, who was speaking on Newstalk’s On the Record with Gavan Reilly, said it was very difficult for people when the weather is very hot and premises are not open and people want to get out and enjoy themselves.

But he called for “strategic patience” to get case numbers down which are “stubbornly staying the same” to ensure that everything opens up and they can continue with vaccination.

“All of us have to be as careful as possible but particularly over the next few weeks. The vaccine rollout is going so well and we need that bit of patience.”

“We don’t want to go back on what we’ve announced already which is always a risk with the variants, but we reduce that risk by being as careful as possible.”

New cases

A far-reaching lifting of Covid-19 restrictions was announced on Friday night by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The measures will see a large degree of normality gradually return to social and commercial life over the summer, with hotels opens within days and international travel due to resume from July 19th.

A further 464 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health on Saturday afternoon.

As of midnight on Friday, May 28th, there were 90 Covid-19 patients in hospital and of those, 35 were in ICU.

The department said the daily cases figure may change due to future data validation.

Saturday’s hospitalised and ICU figures are at their lowest levels since September 23rd, 2020 and December 29th, 2020 respectively.

Also on Saturday in Northern Ireland, one further death related to the virus and a further 68 new cases were reported.

The North’s department of health said a total of 1,695,321 vaccine doses have now been administered in the region.

Anyone over the age of 18 can now register to receive a vaccine in the North.

Testing and travel

Meanwhile people who are not vaccinated who wish to travel on holidays abroad will have to pay for their own PCR Covid-19 tests privately, Minister for State Ossian Smyth has said.

When non-essential international travel resumes from July 19th, people who wish to travel either must have had a Covid-19 vaccine, or present a negative PCR test before travelling.

The cost of PCR tests range from upwards of €100, while cheaper antigen tests can be less than half that.

Speaking on Saturday, Minister of State with responsibility for eGovernment Ossian Smyth admitted the requirement to pay for PCR tests would make international travel “costly”.

“If you want to get tested before travel, you have to get a private test, you can’t go along to the HSE and say I want to go on holidays, will you test me for free,” he said.

“There are a lot of companies offering tests, it’s a competitive market, and I think many people travelling will be vaccinated,” he said.

“The State is not going to test you for free before you go away on a holiday,” he told the RTÉ radio Saturday with Katie Hannon show.

The Government opted to require PCR tests for incoming and outbound travellers, taken no more than three days before departure. Public health officials have expressed scepticism around the use of alternative antigen tests, due to their lower accuracy, and the possibility for false negatives.

People would also need a negative PCR test taken within three days of their flight back to Ireland. Children under seven years of age will not be required to have a Covid-19 test prior to travel.

Mr Smyth said the costs of tests for a family would “add greatly” to the cost of an international holiday.

The Green Party TD said he agreed the Government should look at using cheaper, antigen tests for children older than seven, rather than PCR tests. Mr Smyth said he would raise the matter with Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan.

Trial

Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke said the requirement for a PCR test would place a high cost on people looking to travel.

“People are looking towards the summer, visiting friends and relatives across Europe, and the cost implications are very, very different between PCR and antigen,” he said.

The use of antigen testing before departure at airports should be trialed over the next month, for essential travel between Dublin and London, ahead of non-essential travel resuming, he said.

“You could do it now for the period of a month and you’d have clear information about how this system works,” he said.

Speaking on the radio programme, Prof Mary Hogan said antigen testing should be “further embraced” to help the reopening of society, but added there had been a “reluctance” from health officials around relying on the tests.

The further reopening of society and the economy, with hospitality, air travel, and pilot live events due to resume was hugely positive, Mr Smyth said.

However, he cautioned that the Government was “not going to rush” the return to normality, as “the last thing we want is to have another lockdown.” – Additional reporting PA

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