Republic of Ireland
- Four 'E's approach to policing the lockdown
- A breach of the lockdown provisions could result in a fine of up to €2,500 or six months imprisonment
- Garda has been instructed to only use the emergency legislation as a last resort and to make COVID-19 related arrests under other legislation if possible
- Garda members have been instructed that they should not arrest anyone from Northern Ireland in relation to the restriction on exercising within a set distance from home, but Garda Commissioner Drew Harris confirmed that anyone from the North was subject to all other restrictions and Garda legislation
- The Garda Síochána ordered 16,000 'spit hoods' at the start of the restrictions and as of 25 April, they had been used 15 times
- On the 01 May, the Government published their 'Roadmap for reopening business and society', which sets out the five stage plan for lifting the country's COVID-19 restrictions
On 27 March, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar placed the Republic of Ireland in de-facto lockdown until the 12 April. The lockdown was later extended to 05 May and then again until the 18 May. Under the measures:
- People must stay at home except to access essential services or attend essential work if they cannot work from home
- People cannot meet or gather with people outside of their household
- People must maintain 2 meter physical distancing
- Exercise must be undertaken within 5km of home (the limit was 2km until 05 May)
- All education and community centres are closed
- Nationwide restrictions on travel
- People aged over 70 and extremely medically vulnerable groups must 'cocoon' but as of 05 May can leave their homes to exercise provided they avoid all contact with others
The restrictions on movement and gatherings were given legal effect in regulations made under the Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, an amendment to s31A of the Health Act 1947. The regulations were signed by the Minister for Health on 07 April 2020 and came into force the following day.
Garda Síochána powers
The above restrictions are expressed as penal provisions for the purposes of the Health Act and a breach of them constitutes an offence. Section 31A of the Health Act 1947, as amended, provides the Garda Síochána with enforcement powers to protect public health from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where Gardaí suspect that a person is breaching a penal provision they can:
- Direct them to take steps to ensure compliance e.g. to go home
- Demand their name and address
- Arrest without warrant where someone continues not to comply
A breach of the provisions could result in a class C fine (up to €2,500) or six months imprisonment. The Garda Síochána must seek permission from the Director of Public Prosecutions before bringing charges under the emergency legislation. In spite of the provision of additional powers, Gardaí have been instructed to only use the emergency legislation as a last resort and to make COVID-19 related arrests under other legislation if possible.
Owing to a loophole in the Health Act legislation, Gardaí have been instructed that they should not arrest anyone from Northern Ireland in relation to the restriction on exercising within a set distance from home (2km until 05 May, currently 5km), as they do not have an overnight place of residence in the country. But Garda Commissioner Drew Harris confirmed that anyone from the North was subject to all other restrictions and Garda legislation.
At request of the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Garda Síochána publish data on the use of the emergency powers. Furthermore, the Minister also asked the Policing Authority to assess and report regularly on the force's use of the regulations. The Authority's first report was received by the Minister on 20 April 2020. These steps are intended to provide the public with assurances on the appropriate and proportionate use of the new powers.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission expressed a desire for more detailed data on the application of new powers, in order to assess whether they are being implemented in line with human rights and equality principles across different sectors of society.
Based on its tradition of policing by consent, the Garda Síochána adopted a gradual four 'E's approach to policing the public health guidelines, similar to the UK and New Zealand models and outlined in this paper:
- Enforce - only to be used as a last resort
Gardaí have sought to be highly visible, building on their ethos of community policing and helping the most vulnerable in society. To assist with this a number of resourcing measures were taken including: adding 450 staff to frontline duties; hiring of 210 additional vehicles to provide increased nationwide mobility; new roster arrangements; and postponing retirements. These organisational changes increased available personnel resources by 25%.
Throughout the lockdown, authorities have stressed that normal policing operations to prevent and detect crime continue, with domestic abuse prioritised. The organisation established Operation Faoiseamh to specifically address increased risks and incidence. The Garda Síochána continues to respond to reports as a top priority and their pro-arrest intervention policy remains, with arrest viewed as a way to take an offender out the home. Victim-survivors of domestic abuse recorded in 2018-2020 were contacted by Garda members and those assessed as high risk were visited.
Following the announcement of restrictions by An Taoiseach, the Garda Síochána launched a major nationwide policing operation from 7pm on Friday 27 March to 7pm on Monday 30 March. The operation involved thousands of Gardaí undertaking high visibility patrolling on foot, bike and roads to support public compliance and take enforcement actions where required.
A second major nationwide operation - Operation Fanacht- was carried out over the Easter weekend to ensure compliance with travel restrictions. During the course of the operation, over 2,500 Garda members were involved in checkpoints or high visibility patrolling at any one time, including: 150 permanent checkpoints on major routes, over 500 shorter and mobile checkpoints, and a large number of high visibility patrols at popular locations including parks, beaches and beauty spots.
As of 25 April 2020, the Garda Síochána recorded 76 incidents where new enforcements powers were used since their introduction on 08 April. In general, recorded incidents resulted in arrest for repeated refusal to comply with public health measures. Over the same period, 760 arrests we made under long-standing legislation in relation to COVID-19 enforcement. These incidents 'started as potential breaches of the regulations, but during the incidents other offences were disclosed.' This included public order, assault and road traffic offences.
The Garda Síochána ordered 16,000 'spit hoods' at the start of the restrictions and as of 25 April, they had been used 15 times. The Policing Authority expressed concerns over the introduction of the hoods and their use has been condemned by human rights groups. The Policing Authority will monitor the use of the hoods alongside their assessment of the force's response to the pandemic.
Easing the lockdown
On the 01 May, the Government published their 'Roadmap for reopening business and society', which sets out the five stage plan for lifting the country's COVID-19 restrictions. Under current plans the fifth phase would be implemented on 10 August, but the Government has been keen to stress that that each stage will only come into effect on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team. The fifth stage does not amount to an end of all restrictions.