Gardaí seek clarity on Covid border checks as scientists say zoning could help

Experts, including Dr Gabriel Scally and Dr Tomás Ryan, criticised the lack of cross-border cooperation 
Gardaí seek clarity on Covid border checks as scientists say zoning could help

GRA assistant general secretary Dermot O’Brien said it was unrealistic to police 300 border crossings without a clear plan. Picture: Denis Minihane.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has called for a clear plan to carry out spot checks along the border while experts have suggested that zoning Covid areas by infection rates could help to manage the border area.

GRA assistant general secretary Dermot O’Brien said it was unrealistic to police 300 border crossings without a clear plan.

“What we are seeking is a clear plan for policing the border. It must be developed, resourced, and communicated to gardaí,” Mr O’Brien told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Too often the Government have decided on policy first, which they have done here, without giving due consideration to the practicalities of the implementation. 

"This leaves our members exposed on the frontline, trying to deliver what we class as an unrealistic expectation,” he added.

General secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) Antoinette Cunningham added that new travel and quarantine measures announced this week will pose significant challenges: “The practical application of these regulations for sergeants and inspectors is unclear and we see significant and very serious operational and logistical challenges”.

Meanwhile, a webinar hosted by the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) heard a zoning system could help to manage Covid along the border and entire island.

Associate professor of geography at UCD Dr Julien Mercille said it was possible to zone regions or counties based on infection levels and apply restrictions and checkpoints according to the level of risk.

The permit system used in Australia to facilitate essential travel would only be workable if infection rates were lower than at present, he said.

“If you can close all of the pubs and schools for months you can manage the border, not perfectly, but to a point where it is worthwhile,” Dr Mercille said.

Greater co-operation between the Irish and Stormont governments was critical to managing the pandemic, the seminar heard.

Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally said politicians north and south needed to “stop playing political games with people’s lives” and deal with the virus.

We’re going to be looking back on it and seeing politicians who were tested and found wanting. And people will express their views at the ballot box if they don’t listen to the people.” 

Trinity neuroscientist Dr Tomás Ryan said there was little evidence of all-island co-operation to date: “We can forgive failure but we cannot forgive not trying. There isn’t evidence that the Government has engaged significantly with Stormont. The lack of sharing contact tracing data is evidence of that”.

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