Garda bosses have rejected criticisms of taking a “hands off approach” to policing parties and large gatherings, including recent ones in Cork, Galway and Dublin.
Commissioner Drew Harris told the Policing Authority that while gatherings such as the recent one at the Spanish Arch in Galway are “irresponsible behaviour”, his officers only had enforcement powers in relation to people who organise events, not those attending them.
In other issues discussed at the authority meeting, concerns were expressed at year-on-year reductions in the detection rate for rape and sexual offences, with senior gardaí flagging the issue of consent in court trials as one factor.
The authority heard that the current detection rate for rape in 2020 stood at 4% - but this was clarified as being "artificially low" as it only referred to rapes reported this year where a final outcome had been reached.
On Covid-19 policing, authority member Moling Ryan said, while the feedback on gardaí was “extremely impressive”, concerns were raised at gardaí's handling of parties and congregations, referencing the outdoor party in Oliver Bond flats in Dublin, house parties and street gatherings in Cork, and the congregation at the Spanish Arch.
He said media reports and reports to the authority raised concerns of a "hands off" approach by gardaí.
Commissioner Harris said there was a “substantial presence” of gardaí around the Spanish Arch but said they also had to deal with a “significant number of house parties” in the city.
He said their sole power related to event organisers, which was difficult to apply where gatherings are arranged over social media.
He cautioned going down a “more draconian” approach of issuing on-the-spot fines, as in the North and Britain.
Concerns over the policing of the party at the Oliver Bond flats were disputed by the commissioner and his deputy John Twomey, with the latter stating that “not everything reported in the media is a statement of fact”.
He said there was an “appropriate” response from gardaí and they intervened when the behaviour became “unacceptable”.
On concerns over house parties, the commissioner said that people have “constitutional rights” to the protection of their homes.
He said policing house parties “has been difficult”, but that work with university authorities in Cork and elsewhere has had an effect.
He said to move any further in terms of entering a home to break up a party was a “serious escalation” in garda powers.
On rapes and sexual offences, authority member Judith Gillespie said it seemed to be clear that detection rates were “dropping year on year” and that the last figure provided by gardaí was a rate of 4%.
Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll said gardaí were aware it had “reduced to that level” and that a factor was “issues of consent” being fought in court.
Garda Chief Information Officer Andrew O’Sullivan said the 4% figure was “artificially low” and that people needed to be careful in interpreting it as it only referred to rapes reported in 2020 and that the outcome of many prosecutions were not yet known.
Authority chairman Bob Collins said it was a garda figure and that if it was “misleading” perhaps it shouldn’t be provided.
He said either way that “by any standards detection rates have been declining”.
Ms Gillespie praised the rollout of Garda Protective Services Units, saying there was "no doubt" they were making a difference.