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On Pat-rol Massive garda operation in place for St Patrick's Day with 'ring of steel' around RTE studios

  • Focus on household gatherings amid concern that St Patrick’s Day parties could spark a fourth surge
  • Major garda operation under way to prevent people taking part in protests or house parties this St Patrick's day
  • Experts warning next few weeks will prove crucial to unlock parts of society and avoid a fourth wave

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Garda surround RTÉ in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Garda surround RTÉ in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Garda surround RTÉ in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Micheál Martin put a sharp focus on household visits as he pleaded with people to adhere to Covid guidelines on St Patrick’s Day.

The bank holiday will create opportunities for the spread of the virus “which we must resist”, the Taoiseach warned.

He stressed that there can be no break from the fight against the virus and that household gatherings are at the forefront of the battle.

There will be a major garda presence in Dublin today, with an anti-lockdown protest planned, while there is also concern about large numbers of people gathering outdoors and socialising in the sunny weather.

Garda chiefs have deployed three public order units and a peaceful crowd management unit to parts of Dublin city today. Dog and mounted units have also been deployed. They have also cordoned off key locations where it is believed anti-lockdown protests are due to take place.

Ballsbridge and Donnybrook in Dublin are being treated as potential flashpoints for trouble today as anti-vaxxers, anti-lockdown and anti-mask agitators are expected to gather in another rally similar to the one that sparked violence on Grafton Street in the capital last month.

Disinformation analysts looking at social media and messaging platforms have said an event, billed as a gathering for mental health, is to be held at 2pm in Herbert Park.

It has been advertised on social media platforms as Le Chéile Day with “families supporting families”.

Meanwhile, there is a visible presence of Gardai at all access roads and entry points to the RTÉ site at Montrose.

Crowd control barriers have also been placed across the main entrance on the dual carriageway, so vehicle entry to the national broadcaster is controlled.

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A Garda ring of steel surrounds RTE in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests.  Photo by Steve Humphreys

A Garda ring of steel surrounds RTE in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

A Garda ring of steel surrounds RTE in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

There is now mounting anxiety over the impact that household visits are having on the spread of the virus. Experts are warning that the next few weeks will prove crucial if we are to unlock parts of society and avoid joining some European countries in the slide into a fourth wave of Covid-19.

As a result, some 2,500 gardaí are tasked with enforcing the 5km travel rule today and clamping down on any potential gatherings that contravene public health guidelines.

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Gardai at RTÉ in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests.  Photo by Steve Humphreys

Gardai at RTÉ in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Gardai at RTÉ in Donnybrook ahead of the expected St Patricks Day protests. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Policing Authority Chairperson Bob Collins discussed the increase in dissatisfaction with current lockdown regulations on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland.

“There’s probably a degree of inevitability that since this health emergency has lasted a great deal longer than anybody expected, that an element of weariness would enter into the public as people face into this long period of inactivity,” Mr Collins told the programme.

“It is fraying in relation to some. And that does have consequences.

“It does tend to get in the way of the high-quality relationship that existed before - particularly at the start of the pandemic - between the gardaí and the members of the public.”

Mr Collins was asked how many of the 13,000 fixed penalties that have been issued in the last seven weeks relate to the anti-lockdown protest some weeks ago.

He did not have an exact figure but said: “Whatever the number of fines that were issued in relation to the event in Grafton Street, they will have been a tiny, miniscule percentage of the total fines that have been issued.

“The existence of the emergency regulations does not displace the constitutional right to make a protest. And there is a qualitative difference between exercising that right and having a house party.”

Meanwhile, Professor Sam McConkey, infectious disease consultant in Beaumont Hospital, warned against complacency as cases do not seem to be reducing significantly.

“We are in a similar position to where were were back in November and we have to learn lessons,” he said.

He added that, given the case numbers are not dropping fast, the reopening in April is going to have to be very modest.

“If we go wild in April then the numbers will start to grow and then we are going backwards,” he said.

Government ministers are eager to send the message that the most patriotic act anyone can perform on St Patrick’s Day is to stick to the rules.

Mr Martin said his advice was to avoid social gatherings or congregations of any sort today, given the state of play in relation to the virus.

“It’s very important that we avoid household gatherings, and that’s my key message.”

New figures show 205 family outbreaks last week and 31 among extended family. There were 10 general outbreaks in private homes, while 14 outbreaks hit workplaces.

Asked by the Irish Independent if planned loosening of restrictions after Easter could be put at risk, the Taoiseach replied: “We will discuss what happens after April 5 in the week before. Government colleagues will look at that.

“We understand this is very difficult for people, and the public has responded magnificently. Notwithstanding the transmissibility of the virus, the numbers have come down significantly. They are flattening now, but there are
challenges.

“And therefore occasions like St Patrick’s Day can potentially create opportunities for the spread of the virus, which we must resist. And that’s my appeal to people. We’ve made a lot of sacrifices, and the sacrifices have been effective. They brought the numbers down. Let’s keep at it.”

There were 349 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, but 18 deaths were recorded.

Ireland is still better placed than many countries, and if daily cases were at the European average they would be up to around 1,700.

But the amount of virus circulating here is still very high. The five-day moving average is for 550 cases a day now compared with 480 cases a day on March 10. Last week’s cases per week were only down only 3pc on the previous week’s.

Mr Martin said: “The key issue is the avoidance of congregation, the avoidance of gathering, because with this variant if we gather together the spread is very significant. And we know that from experience, not just here but across Europe. Member states are witnessing an increase in numbers growing significantly in some countries.”

In Northern Ireland, moves to exit lockdown are already under way as First Minister Arlene Foster outlined a series of relaxations.

From April 1 in the North, up to six people from two households can meet outdoors in a private garden.

Ten people, from no more than two households, can participate in outdoor sporting activities. This means golf courses will reopen.

Further relaxation of rules is planned from April 12 in the North as the ‘stay at home’ requirement will be replaced with a ‘stay local’ message.

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