New powers in support of the public health restrictions on movement and gatherings have been provided for members of An Garda Síochána under section 31A of the Health Act 1947, as inserted by the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020. The purpose of these powers is to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The regulations are available on the Statute Book at the following link:  http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2020/si/121/made/en/print

The Minister for Justice and Equality has requested the Garda Commissioner to compile and publish weekly data on the use of these powers, with a view to ensuring transparency.  Garda publications recording data on the use of these powers can be accessed on the website of An Garda Síochána at the following links:

 

To provide additional public assurance on the appropriate and proportionate use of these powers, the Minister for Justice and Equality has also asked the Policing Authority to assess and report regularly on the use of these regulations by An Garda Síochána.

 

The first report of the Policing Authority to the Minister of Justice and Equality was received on 20 April 2020. 

 

The second report of the Policing Authority was provided to the Minister for Justice and Equality on 7 May 2020.  The Policing Authority finds that An Garda Síochána are continuing to act in a sensitive and proportionate manner and to use the powers under the Health Regulations only sparingly.  The Authority specifically welcomed the Commissioner’s emphasis on the importance of the Garda Decision-Making Model, which has at its centre Human Rights and the Code of Ethics and also identified clear evidence of the consistent application of the law and of policy throughout the country by Gardaí in all circumstances.

 

The third report of the Policing Authority was provided to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the 20 May 2020.  The Policing Authority finds that the level of the use of their new powers has been modest, given the extensive level of engagement between the Garda Síochána and the public, and that the positive reaction at community level to the breadth and depth of engagement by Gardaí continues. Those who work with vulnerable people reported very positive responses from gardaí throughout the country. This is very welcome and the Authority also welcomes increased clarity and transparency regarding the provision of COVID-19 testing and the wearing of PPE by Garda members.

 

The fourth report of the Policing Authority was provided to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the 04 May 2020.  In this report, the Policing Authority stress the positive tone of policing and community engagement carried out by An Garda Síochána and reported to them by various community groups. The report highlights the importance of the provision of high quality data and confirms a drop in the reported use of the new Garda powers in recent weeks. Looking forward, the Policing Authority express concern regarding the potential stresses put on policing due to increasing footfall at community areas/beauty spots as the country moves through the phases of the Roadmap for Reopening Business and Society.

 

The fifth report of the Policing Authority was provided to the Minister for justice and Equality on 25 June 2020.  This report examines the performance of an Garda Síochána since the easing of the public health restrictions in recent weeks.  The range of emergency enforcement powers is greatly lessened and allow an Garda Síochána to return to using the pre-existing statutory powers.  The report demonstrates that An Garda Síochána continue to have a crucial role to play in supporting our national efforts to respond to the pandemic.  Other elements in the report addressed general crime trends during the pandemic, the use of anti-spit hoods, the particular position of young people in this period as well as Garda health and wellbeing. 

 

The sixth Policing Authority report on the use of on the use of these regulations by An Garda Síochána was provided to the Minister of Justice and Equality on 17 July 2020. This report finds that since the initial easing of restrictions the number of new incidents relating to the specific policing of COVID-19 has decreased considerably, although significant policing activity continues with regard to the inspection of licenced premises under Operation Navigation. The Policing Authority found that no apparent disparities arose in the quality of the policing response as between rural and urban environments. The Authority’s liaising with community groups found that there was a voiced recognition that broadly there has been an enormous effort by the Garda Síochána in the discharge of its duties during this time. The Authority also stress that there must be a focus on fairness and consistency in policing in the weeks and months ahead and as circumstances change.

 

The seventh Policing Authority report on was provided to the Minister of Justice and Equality on 17 September 2020. This report finds that following an initial decline in the number of new incidents relating to the specific policing of COVID-19, there has been a more recent increase in both enforcement and policing activity in the wake of Operation Navigation and localised restrictions. The Policing Authority again stress the importance for detailed data sets to be provided to them by An Garda Síochána and request that enhanced detail is provided regarding some enforcement measures. The Authority notes that Gardaí appear have an increasing understanding of and alertness for situations of domestic abuse or coercive control which has unfortunately risen since the pandemic began. The Authority also condemn the number of incidents where people cough or spit at members of An Garda Síochána has remained stubbornly steady since July.

 

The eighth Policing Authority(PA) report on the use of these regulations by An Garda Síochána was provided to the Minister of Justice and Equality on 09 October 2020. The PA acknowledge that An Garda Síochána believe quite firmly that the current approach of using the first three E’s of Engagement, Explanation and Encouragement remains the most appropriate approach to policing during this health emergency. The PA welcomes the decline in use of anti-spit hoods. The PA also recognise that spitting and coughing incidents have reduced again since the last report. Organisations working in the area of domestic abuse continue to report positively on the sustained efforts of the Garda Síochána and the positive impact of that work.

 

The ninth report composed by the Policing Authority(PA) on the use of Covid-19 related regulations by An Garda Síochána was provided to the Minister of Justice on 9 November 2020. The PA note that the incidents of the use of powers has risen from September’s recorded figures and that this is largely a result of Operation Navigation and the inspection of licensed premises. The downward trend in the use of spit hoods has continued with fewer cases recorded each consecutive month since May. This is despite the unwelcome a rise in October of incidents where Garda members were coughed on or spat at. The PA also note that community groups have expressed their appreciation of the responsiveness and the tone of policing carried out by An Garda Síochána as the country transitioned to level 5 restrictions.

 

The tenth report of the Policing Authority recognises that An Garda Síochána understood at an early the unintended implications of the public health restrictions for many people vulnerable.  Garda actions, especially under operation Faoiseamh, have provided an extra level of security to these vulnerable groups.  The Authority notes that despite the increased COVID-19 policing activity throughout November and December there was only one recoded case of the use of a spit hood despite nineteen spitting assaults on Gardaí between 9 November and 14 December.  The Authority continues to commend An Garda Síochána on the tone of the policing carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This tone was seen at the level of the individual and the organisation. This built trust but it was also reported that the tone of policing made the necessary intrusions on the daily course of normal life, brought about by the COVID-19 public health measures, somehow more acceptable.

 

The eleventh Policing Authority Report on the use of Covid-19 related regulations by An Garda Síochána, and  covers the period of late December until the middle of February. This period featured significant levels of covid-19 in communities which resulted in an increased level of enforcement with the operationalising of new fines for breaches in regulations, as well as the ongoing use of existing powers. The report finds that in tandem with the policing of the health emergency regulations, there continues to be a wide-ranging commitment by the Garda Síochána to reach out to the most vulnerable.  The Policing Authority’s outreach to statutory and non-governmental organisations who work with vulnerable people and with victims continues to report on the deep appreciation of the work of the Gardaí and note the potential for an enduring influence on the relationship between Gardaí and the community.

 

The twelfth Report on the use of Covid-19 related powers of An Garda Síochána is also the second report for 2021 and reflects on the evolution of the policing response as the country approaches one year of living through the COVID-19 public health response.  This report covers the period mid-February to early March. This period coincides with increased levels of enforcement and tools such as fines for breaches in regulations. The report notes that Communities have responded enthusiastically to the increased engagement and presence of Gardaí and the role they have played in supporting the vulnerable.  The Policing Authority also discusses the emerging complexities of the policing landscape due to the visible frustration of some with the Health Regulations expressed as protest and certain instances on non-compliance.

The thirteenth report by the Policing Authority on the use of Covid-19 related powers of An Garda Síochána notes that as reflected in previous reports, the development of regulations in response to COVID-19 has proceeded, necessarily at an unprecedented pace. This has created significant challenges for the Garda Síochána as an organisation to adapt systems and communicate the scope of powers to its workforce. The Authority’s engagement with stakeholders has also revealed a high degree of uncertainty among members of the public as to what was permissible and what was not. The Policing Authority also welcomes the continue decline of assaults on Garda members who have been coughed on or spat at.

 

The fourteenth Policing Authority report on the use of Covid-19 related powers of An Garda Síochána covers from mid-April to early May. This period has been one where regulations regarding the movement of individuals for non-essential purposes and other restrictions have eased significantly. Since their peak in late February and Early March a significant downward trend has been seen in the issuing of Covid-19 related fines. The report continues to note the appreciation of community organisations and other vulnerable groups shown to members of An Garda Síochána over this time period for their continued attention and dedication. The Policing Authority also recognises the resilience shown by all in the Garda workforce in exercising their law enforcement duties and supporting public health guidelines throughout the last year.

 

The fifteenth Policing Authority report on the use of Covid-19 related powers of An Garda Síochána notes the quality of the work being undertaken by An Garda Síochána in reaching out to the victims of domestic abuse under Operation Faoiseamh. The report commends the new approach to vulnerable people and support organisations which Gardaí have pursued under Faoiseamh and endorses such an approach to continue beyond the pandemic. This report recognises the now reduced health regulations enforced.”