'I'll do what I'm told': Garda chief on using fines for  Covid-19 curbs

'I'll do what I'm told': Garda chief on using fines for  Covid-19 curbs

A Garda checkpoint on the Castleisland to Limerick main road outbound from Kerry, as part of the Level 5 lockdown now in effect for six weeks. Picture: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

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 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.

Enforcement measures would only be used as a "last resort"

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 are with respect to 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."

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.

This is our part of policing a medical pandemic

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."


                        Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed reservations about the use of fines.Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed reservations about the use of fines.Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

He urged 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 the second stage in the Dáil 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 gardaí 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".

But Mr Harris said: "I've looked closely at the regulations and I don't really accept the AGSI analysis of that.

"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."

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