Trevor Laffan: Gardaí don’t want to fill their days doing Covid checkpoints

Gardai are in a difficult spot and Trevor Laffan says he has sympathy for them.
Trevor Laffan: Gardaí don’t want to fill their days doing Covid checkpoints

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: Trevor said gardaí are stuck between the Government on one side, implementing Covid-19 restrictions, and the very fed-up public on the other. Picture: Larry Cummins

WHI knows where we will be by the time this column is published?

We could be in the mother and father of all lockdowns or if our behaviour spirals out of control, we could be all locked up by the gardaí. They’re in a difficult spot and I have sympathy for them.

They’re caught in the middle of a tug-o-war between the Government on one side and the very fed-up public on the other and crime doesn’t stop because of a pandemic so they have plenty of other matters to be getting on with.

Performing Covid-19 checkpoints and investigating alleged breaches of the restrictions is not how they want to fill their days. They prefer to advise rather than prosecute but even that can be tricky as we saw recently when they had to instruct a priest to cancel Mass. That’s not something any member of An Garda Siochana was trained for, unless the training has changed dramatically since my time, but that’s exactly what they had to do in Cavan.

As the priest was about to go out on the altar, he was visited by the gardaí who advised him that he was contravening the current Covid-19 regulations. There were around 50 people in the church waiting for Mass to begin and he was told to send them home. He refused and gardaí later informed him that a file had been prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions and if convicted, he could face a fine of up to €2,500, and six months in prison.

The priest was unrepentant. He wasn’t concerned about his congregation becoming infected with the virus because he felt God would protect them. Scientists had a different theory, but in his opinion the scientists were wrong because God has healed people in the past and has even raised people from the dead.

The priest is entitled to his opinion, but science makes a strong case for following the guidelines and, like it or not, it falls to the men and women in blue to enforce adherence to those guidelines. Not the most comfortable situation for the gardaí to be in because they are trained to fight crime: Taking on God is an entirely different matter.

These are strange times, and many of us are having to behave differently. We must think ahead and consider the likely outcome of our actions or we could find ourselves in hot water with the authorities and being shunned by the neighbours. It’s easy to cause offence now.

Who could have predicted that a game of golf followed by a meal, would qualify as a national scandal? Or who could have known that gathering to pay tribute to a retiring colleague would have the management of our national broadcaster hauled in to the Dail to answer questions about why it was arranged and who was responsible for it?

A receptionist working in RTÉ for forty years suddenly found herself hitting the headlines on the very day she was retiring. Any hope she may have had of slipping out quietly was well and truly scuppered and through no fault of her own.

Any group of people gathered in a public space these days is given the evil eye. A few youngsters running down Patrick Street made it onto the national airwaves after a video was uploaded to social media by a witness who saw gardaí trying to disperse a crowd of young people. On Monday morning some of them were interviewed on the Claire Byrne Show on RTÉ radio. They were defiant.

In their opinion, they were entitled to be out meeting their friends for a few drinks and entitled to be having fun instead of being at home getting stressed out. They were fed up with the Covid-19 restrictions, they said.

The public was outraged, yet during my working life, that was normal behaviour on Friday and Saturday nights in the city centre. Many hundreds of people spilled out of the pubs and clubs onto Washington Street, the Grand Parade and Patrick Street every weekend. Many got involved in assaults, got sick, urinated on the footpaths, and broke things. It was par for the course and the only people who appeared to be bothered were the working gardaí who had to deal with it.

I was walking into town recently and there were some teenagers walking ahead of me and they were chatting amongst themselves. There was an older guy coming towards them with a mask on and he suddenly challenged the young lads in an aggressive manner.

I couldn’t hear precisely what was being said because of his mask and the distance between us but it seemed he was chastising them for not wearing masks. To be fair to them they didn’t say a word to the guy, and just kept walking.

It’s hard to blame him though because we don’t know what’s going on in his life. He could be very worried about getting sick and this behaviour might be completely out of character for him, but that’s Covid for you. It’s having an effect on us all and in many cases, it’s turning us against each other.

We crave normality. We want the pandemic to go away, we want to socialise and be with our friends. We want the pubs and restaurants to open, we want to meet up for Christmas, we want to attend Mass, funerals, and weddings. We want people to stop dying from Covid-19 and we want to be able to travel and go on holidays like we always did.

We’ve had a tough year and we’ve done well but our collective resolve is waning. The good news is a vaccine is on the way and hopefully the nightmare will end soon. Until then, let’s all hang in there.

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