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Garda Commissioner expresses doubt over use of fines for lockdown breaches

Drew Harris refused to say he supported the use of fines, but told reporters ‘I’ll do as I’m told.’

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Drew Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Drew Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Drew Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

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 euro.

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.”

A further seven Covid-19 linked deaths and 777 new cases of the virus were reported in Ireland on Friday.

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.

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.”

I would appeal to people, stay at home. This is not about finding the exemption that allows you out this morning or this afternoonDrew Harris

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 gardai 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”.

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Gardai at a checkpoint on the M7 motorway at the border of Dublin and Kildare on the first day of the Level 5 restrictions in Dublin.

Gardai at a checkpoint on the M7 motorway at the border of Dublin and Kildare on the first day of the Level 5 restrictions in Dublin.

PA

Gardai at a checkpoint on the M7 motorway at the border of Dublin and Kildare on the first day of the Level 5 restrictions in Dublin.

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 gardai on duty each day during the six-week lockdown introduced on Thursday.

New figures released by the Central Statistics Office Ireland (CSO) show that more than 10 people have died from Covid-19 for each of the last six weeks.

The statistics, released on Friday, also show the number of weekly confirmed Covid-19 cases is more than 5,000 in each of the last two weeks up to and including October 16.

Hospital numbers are also growing, with more than 100 people hospitalised from the virus for each of the last three weeks.

The median age of new confirmed Covid-19 cases was 31, while women and those aged between 25 to 44 continue to account for the highest number of confirmed cases.

Since July, those aged over 80 account for 2% of cases compared to 20% in March.

Despite tighter restrictions implemented in Dublin since September 19, the capital made up 26% of all new cases, a total of 1,555 cases, and it is the fifth week in a row that Dublin had more than 1,000 weekly cases.

The research also shows that more than half of all confirmed cases are now linked to an outbreak.

Outbreaks in private houses account for 54% of cases linked to an outbreak in the last four weeks, extended family accounts for 9% while childcare facilities and schools together account for 5% of cases.

Those living in disadvantaged areas have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, while health care workers now make up 3% of cases compared to a peak of 36% in April.

The average number of contacts per positive case per week was four in the week ending October 9.

Meanwhile, a number of schools were forced to shut their doors after a hand sanitiser was recalled by the Department of Agriculture.

The department warned that prolonged use of the sanitiser may cause dermatitis, eye irritation, upper respiratory system irritation and headaches.

The product, Virapro Hand Sanitiser (PCS 100409), is used in many schools by students and staff.

Members of the public have also been urged not to use the product as it contains methanol rather than ethanol.

The Department of Agriculture said it has removed the hand sanitiser product from the Biocidal Product Register because of public health concerns.

“Tests by the department show that some of the sanitiser on sale does not comply with regulations governing the content and efficacy of such products,” the statement said.

“The company involved has been instructed by the department to initiate an immediate recall of all product.

“A department investigation into this matter is ongoing.”

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