'A body blow’: Gardaí fearful for vulnerable family members as they're no longer on vaccine priority list

'A body blow’: Gardaí fearful for vulnerable family members as they're no longer on vaccine priority list

Garda Harrington said his phone has been extremely busy since the revised programme was published on Tuesday, taking gardaí and teachers off the priority list. Instead, the vaccine will be rolled out by age after vulnerable categories have been vaccinated. Picture Denis Minihane.

“I knew the risks I was taking when I joined the force but I never believed that my elderly mother or my wife and family would be at risk of having to give their lives because of my job as a guard.”

That is the view of Cork City garda Pádraig Harrington, who is divisional representative on the Garda Representative Association central executive.

He is one of many rank-and-file gardaí who are angry that gardaí are no longer to be prioritised on the Covid-19 vaccine programme.

Garda Harrington said his phone has been extremely busy since the revised programme was published on Tuesday, taking gardaí and teachers off the priority list. Instead, the vaccine will be rolled out by age after vulnerable categories have been vaccinated.

“Gardaí feel the decision by government is showing a complete lack of respect towards the men and women of An Garda Síochána. It is a complete cop out from our politicians who operate in the knowledge that they can achieve social distancing in the comfort of the Dáil and who do not operate in uncontrolled environments like members of the gardaí,” he said.

“One member in particular was very angry and extremely worried. He is living with his mother and sister who are both suffering from cancer,” said the garda.

Garda Harrington continued: “They are both isolating at home and he is their only connection to the outside world. He does their shopping and any other jobs they need done in the outside world.

“He is now at his wits end because he is unlikely to be vaccinated anytime soon, given that he is in the 30 to 40 age group. He does not have the option of working from home and has to go to work to get paid.”

Garda Harrington said the member raised a number of questions, including why the security guards and army who were transporting and minding those who flew into the country were being vaccinated when gardaí were not.

This was echoed by Sergeant Alan Cronin, Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors vice-president.

He said that gardaí are tasked with locating anyone who absconds from mandatory quarantine, but are not protected by vaccination.

Sgt Cronin, who is based in the Bridewell, said: “We are bitterly disappointed.

“Gardaí are going from call to call, to situations where people are not wearing a mask in a shop, and then could be called to a sudden death, to deal with a shoplifter and to someone kicking off in A&E. Our members’ greatest fear is about bringing Covid-19 home.”

He said there were gardaí attached to Cork City districts who spent Christmas in the attics of their home, to isolate from family members, because of contracting Covid-19.

He said the decision on the vaccination programme was a “body blow”.

In recent weeks, Garda Harrington sent letters to all Cork TDs, asking that gardaí be upgraded from group 10 to group six on the original vaccination programme.

Meanwhile, a Cork preschool owner has also said she is very disheartened by the vaccine rollout changes.

Minna Murphy, manager of Kildinan Preschool, said: “We were low enough on the list, but... the whole game has changed again.

“It doesn’t make sense that somebody who is working at home will receive the vaccine before me, who is working in very close contact with lots of children on a daily basis. Children can’t social distance and we can’t expect them to.”

The preschool manager said the decision shows a lack of respect for early years teachers.

“We provide a vital service, but we are never mentioned by the Government when they talk about essential workers.

“We understand the most vulnerable people in society need to be prioritised first on the vaccination list. After that, it should be the groups who are working with a large number of people on a regular basis,” she added.

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