Donegal TD hits out at ‘ratline’ for public to ‘tout on neighbours’ over Covid breaches

Pringle says move ‘will do nothing but set back response’ to high virus case numbers

A Donegal TD has accused gardaí of introducing a “rat line” for the public to “tout on neighbours” who breach Covid-19 restrictions in Co Donegal, which has the highest incidence of the virus in the country

Independent Thomas Pringle made the accusation in the Dáil after gardaí in the county set up a special hotline for the public to report breaches of public health guidelines including illegal parties or gatherings.

Mr Pringle said the introduction of a “tout line, rat line” is “crazy” and “will do nothing but set back the response in the county”.

He also criticised the weekend discussion between Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and local politicians as a "PR exercise".


But Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had no knowledge “of the tout hotline”. He said “I do not like the use of the language around it. It has wider connotations.”

He stressed that “we should support the Garda”, adding that people would be taken aback by what gardaí say “about the sophistication of quite a number of shebeens” found across the State who undermine legitimate traders who closed in compliance with the rules.

Mr Martin said there should be no tolerance of that blatant disregard of the regulations.

The confidential phoneline was established in the wake of figures showing Donegal has the highest incidence rate of Covid-19 in the country, at 293.4, compared to a national 14-day incidence rate of 127.3 with the highest rates in Milford and Letterkenny. Infection rates in the south of the county however were around three times lower than the national average.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said last week “the dogs in the street” knew what was happening in Donegal which provoked any angry reaction from some and Mr Pringle said the county was “being highlighted as worst in class” for the high rates of infection.

Mr Pringle, who also attended the online meeting with the CMO and Minister for Health dismissed it as “little more than a PR exercise”.

He welcomed that a testing centre was opening in Milford Mart on Wednesday but was disappointed it would only be open for three days and while additional facilities are to be announced “we don’t know where they will be or how long they’ll open for”.

He also claimed that Dr Holohan was supposed to be on Highland Radio on Tuesday "to outline what was being done in regard to the Covid-19 outbreaks. I listened to the show and was not surprised to hear that it was just local representatives again."

The announcement by An Garda of a hotline “did not come out of the PR stunt last Saturday,” he said.

But he asked Mr Martin “what planet are you on” if a phoneline is the response of Government and officialdom to the Covid outbreak in Donegal.

“We need walk-in test centres and vaccination clinics in Donegal and extension of the current centres and clinics for more than a week” and not a hotline to encourage people to “inform on their friends and neighbours on breaches of the Covid-19 restrictions. That’s crazy. It will do nothing but set back the response in the county.”

Mr Martin said it was a good thing local public representatives would meet the CMO and work out helpful measures to reduce the number of cases in Donegal.

“From what I could glean, that was the genuine motivation behind that meeting during a bank holiday weekend” and it should be followed through.

“I will check whether representatives of the Chief Medical Officer can make themselves available to local radio. There may have been reasons beyond their control that they could not participate” in the radio show. “I will follow that up.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times