Garda members were “really concerned” that pandemic measures “became viewed as Garda regulations and not health regulations,”the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has said.
"This is very troublesome to us and the members of our association who are deeply conscious of the need for us to go back and police by consent and uphold the relationship between An Garda Síochána, members of the AGSI, and the public," Antoinette Cunningham told the Oireachtas Committee on Justice on Tuesday. It met stakeholders on Tuesday to discuss 'Civil Liberties during the Covid-19 Pandemic'
Ms Cunningham said members were “severely tested” by protests in Dublin during the pandemic. Even more recently there had been criticism levelled at members for appearing in riot gear needed “to protect the health and safety of the members of the AGSI when bottles and missiles were thrown at them,” she said.
Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL), said some measures taken by the Government during the pandemic "involved very significant interferences with human rights".
He continued: “in our analysis the Government had done well in many areas but in others the restrictions introduced have been disproportionate or have impacted disproportionately on some sections of society.”
The ICCL was however “deeply disappointed that the Oireachtas recently approved, albeit narrowly, the Government’s proposal to extend these extraordinary ministerial powers until November with the possibility of further extension.”
Prof Caroline Fennell of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said the Governmen response "revealed a lack of human rights and equality expertise in the decision making structures to tackle the pandemic".
Shifting relationships between the Government and Nphet “and limited opportunities for Oireachtas oversight, have made it difficult to ascertain where, if at all, human rights and equality concerns are being addressed,” she said.
Rapid implementation of strict public health measures at the beginning of the pandemic and high adherence "saved thousand of lives and is the main reason the death toll per person is lower in Ireland than in most of our European neighbours," the committee was told. Evidence was "unequivocal that, prior to the most recent third wave of Covid-19 infections, Government decisions were consistently less restrictive than majority public opinion wanted," Prof Pete Lunn said.
The head of the behavioural research unit at the ESRI continued, "for instance, from June 2020 to February 2021 Department of Health tracking data showed that the majority of the population thought that Ireland was trying to return to normal too quickly. The proportion who thought the Government response was too extreme never climbed above 10 per cent during 2020."
The “overwhelming majority of the Irish population supported the public health restrictions and, throughout most of the pandemic so far, would have preferred them to be more not less restrictive. This remained through prior to Christmas when average public opinion favoured the less liberal series of restrictions than was implemented,” he said.