Barricades and other such stand-off incidents involving gardaí are on the increase in Ireland, according to An Garda Síochána.
However, they say the rise of what are known as hostage barricade suicidal (HBS) incidents is, so far, unrelated to Covid-19 and related movement restrictions.
There were 98 such incidents last year and the year before, up from 86 in 2017.
The latest HBS incident happened last Friday night at an address in Sligo. It involved an armed man in his 20s who was later arrested.
However, gardaí say there is no evidence to suggest that incidents like this are on the increase because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
There has been a year-on-year 16% increase in the reporting of domestic abuse incidents between 2019 and 2020, but gardaí say they have not recorded any significant increase in domestic abuse incidents since the introduction of Covid-19 public health measures.
The force’s lead negotiator at the National Negotiator Unit (NNU) says gardaí do not expect the lockdown to lead to extra barricade incidents involving domestic abuse cases.
Inspector Tony Ryan, whose unit is part of An Garda Síochána’s Special Tactics and Operations Command -Stoc-, said: “An increase in domestic violence is always definitely something we would have been concerned about.
“This is because domestic violence can sometimes lead to barricade incidents.”
The officer, who has trained with both the FBI and New Scotland Yard in the UK, said that if there was going to be an increase, he and his NNU colleagues would have seen it by now.
There have been numerous HBS incidents this year so far, most of which received no media attention.
They have mostly involved males and a number led to those involved being detained under the Mental Health Act.
The longest HBS incident this year so far was on February 19 in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and ended after 54 hours.
The incident involved what was described as “a vulnerable young person” who had barricaded himself into his parents’ house after they took away his PlayStation.
Worryingly for everyone concerned, he had access to a legally held firearm as well as ammunition.
The incident ended after what was described as a “tactical intervention” by the Garda Emergency Response Unit.
During the course of the protracted incident, a large amount of personnel were deployed, including uniform and plainclothes officers, specialist Garda crisis negotiators from Donegal division, and Regional Armed Support Units.
Specialist Stoc units, including the Emergency Response Unit, Armed Support Unit, and the NNU — which is one of the only full-time police negotiation units in the world — were also deployed.
Speaking generally about callouts, Inspector Ryan said: “We have found we are dealing with more mental health issues.
“And we have found our deployment has increased in the last five to seven years.
“Up to 2013, we were dealing with around 50 incidents per year, and now we are up around 100.
“These incidents are very sad and testing times for the families involved and, as Garda negotiators, we are very aware and sympathetic about this.
“Prior to arriving, you will get an updated status as to what has happened and why gardaí were called to this incident.
“And then you begin a dialogue with the person and you try to finish it peacefully.
“That is the reason for negotiation — to talk to the person, to find out what is going wrong.
“You try and resolve things peacefully for that person who is in difficulty or crisis.
“Once the conversation starts taking place, we can prepare to help the person and that is ultimately what we want to do.”
And he said this is “regardless of what the incident is about, regardless of what has happened, and regardless of the type of person we are dealing with”.
“Our job is to create conversation, to listen to the person, and then see how we can help them to come out from where they are and to get them help,” said Insp Ryan.