Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 1 - during lockdown

This review (part 1) considers international policing approaches and responses to policing the lockdown, up to the 7 May 2020.

Northern Ireland

Main points

  • Northern Ireland's policing approach is also based on the four 'E's model
  • Community resolution notices and penalty notices of £60 are being handed out to those not respecting the lockdown
  • People can report those not respecting the lockdown through an online form
  • Technology which is usually used to track earthquakes being used to monitor people's movements
  • Government might ease lockdown at a different pace from the rest of the UK if necessary

The lockdown

The Health Protection Regulations 2020 were introduced by the Northern Ireland Executive on 28 March, 2020. People are being told to leave their house only for a reasonable excuse. This includes the need:

  • to get basic necessities, including food and medical supplies
  • to take exercise either alone or with other members of the household
  • to seek medical assistance
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance
  • to donate blood
  • to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living
  • to attend a funeral of a family member[56]

When they leave their homes, people should stay 2 metres away from others.[57] Gatherings of more than two people are also banned.[58] The public is encouraged not to drive to local beauty spots for their daily exercise as others may have the same idea and social distancing may not be achievable.[59]

Policing the lockdown

Officers are using the new dispersal powers to protect the health of the public and they are following the same four-phased approach as in the rest of the UK (Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce).[60] If a person fails to comply with the above restrictions without a reasonable excuse, they may receive a Community Resolution Notice. If required, the police can issue a penalty notice of £60. For those who continue to disregard the NI Executive directions, the fine can be doubled each time and summary prosecution can be sought for those who refuse to pay or comply. The £60 fine can fall to £30 if paid within 14 days.

The police launched a webpage for people to report alleged breaches of social distancing rules through an online form.[61] On 24 April, it was reported that the police in Northern Ireland had received 3,787 reports about perceived breaches to social distancing guidelines in just six days. However, a number of the reports related to people allegedly not following guidance, rather than fully breaching the lockdown regulations.[62] As of 29 April, 374 fines and 615 community resolution notices directing people to behave differently had been issued.[63]

There has been a debate over social distancing regulations, and the police and health authorities are 'deeply concerned' that such debate might encourage people to ignore official advice. They released a statement on 28 April, saying that: "the current discourse may serve to undermine public confidence in the overall regulations, and encourage some people to ignore the strong guidance from the Northern Ireland Executive - with potentially devastating consequences. There will inevitably be some shades of grey. That's the reality of life. The police have rightly made clear that officers will apply a 'reasonableness' test on occasions when deciding if some behaviours may breach the regulations".[64]

Issues at the border

A surge in coronavirus infections on Ireland's border with Northern Ireland has prompted concern about a possible spill over between the two jurisdictions. However, authorities on both sides of the border have downplayed suggestions of spill over.[65] Furthermore, Garda (Irish police) in the border region have been ordered not to arrest anyone from Northern Ireland for suspected breaches of the COVID-19 regulations, for example for breaches of the restriction on exercising within a set distance from home. It is thought this is due to a gap in government emergency legislation. However, the Department of Health in the country has insisted there is no anomaly with the regulations,[66] and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris confirmed that anyone from the North was subject to all other restrictions and Garda legislation. Border checkpoints have been announced for the May Bank Holiday period.[67]


The Irish authorities are using technology normally associated with measuring earthquakes to check whether people are complying with the lockdown, measuring car traffic noise and reverberation. As of 24 April, these appeared to have increased, indicating that more people were out driving or walking. Officials are also using data from Apple-made smartphones, which is also indicating an increase in the numbers, driving, walking and using public transport.[68]

Easing the lockdown

Northern Ireland's First Minister has advised that the country might ease the lockdown at a different pace than the rest of the UK.[69] After being closed since the start of the lockdown, cemeteries have been reopened on a controlled basis, and the Environment Minister has suggested that garden centres should also be allowed to reopen, if they can manage social distancing.[70]



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