Garda Commissioner expresses doubt over use of fines for lockdown breaches 

Garda Commissioner expresses doubt over use of fines for lockdown breaches 

A Garda on Covid-19 regulations checkpoint duty at Cobh Cross, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has expressed reservations about the use of fines for enforcing Covid-19 restrictions.

The Government is preparing legislation that would see the public face fines of up to €500 euro for breaching the 5km travel limit introduced as part of lockdown measures.

Second and third offenders can face imprisonment and fines of up to €2,500.

But Mr Harris refused to say he supports the penalties, telling reporters: "I'll do as I'm told."

He said the enforcement measures would only be used as a "last resort".

Asked if he supported the measures, he replied: "The good thing is the piece of legislation backs this up. I'm a public servant, a good and faithful servant at that, and I'll do as I'm told.

"We have fines, but they are set in an enforcement sphere. We have to discern then what our policy and practice is with respect of that enforcement.

"But we have already set that out. Enforcement is our last resort. So the use of the fixed charge penalty notice, or a report to the DPP, is a last resort for us in all cases."

Mr Harris last month expressed reservations to the Policing Authority about the "more draconian" route of on-the-spot fines, which have been used in Northern Ireland and Britain.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris at Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, during a press briefing outlining An Garda Siochana's policing plan to support Level 5 lockdown measures in Ireland.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris at Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, during a press briefing outlining An Garda Siochana's policing plan to support Level 5 lockdown measures in Ireland.

Pressed by reporters on Friday, he said: "It will be something which assists in enforcement. But we don't want to get to the place of enforcement.

"This is a pandemic that we are assisting with. I find myself in the odd position, if I was talking about disorder, if I was talking about organised crime, I'd have very definite views. But this is our part of policing a medical pandemic."

He urged to the public to comply with lockdown measures and not to seek out "loopholes" in public health advice.

He said: "I would appeal to people, stay at home. This is not about finding the exemption that allows you out this morning or this afternoon.

"Stay at home, only go out if it's necessary to do so, and minimise your contact with others."

The legislation underpinning the use of fines for breaches of restrictions was passed at second stage in the Dail on Friday by a vote of 93 to 43.

Mr Harris also rejected analysis by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) that policing new legislation on house parties would be difficult to enforce.

AGSI general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said that because gardaí will not have powers to enter a person's home "if a person refuses to answer the door to a member of An Garda Siochana, where a house party is taking place, we remain powerless".

But Mr Harris said: "I've looked closely at the regulations and I don't really accept the AGSI analysis of that.

"You can, in effect, turn people away and you can ask people who leave the house to leave the area immediately.

"There are penal provisions attached to that. They must comply or else they commit an offence. You can also give direction to the owner of the home.

"It doesn't say that you actually have to be in the dwelling to give that direction.

"Yes, somebody can pretend that they don't hear the door and all of that there, but I just can't see that those circumstances are likely.

"Sergeants and inspectors are very experienced in policing and I have no doubt that we will find a way of making the legislation work."

There will be more than 2,500 uniformed gardaí on duty each day during the six-week lockdown introduced on Thursday.

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