POLICING the more stringent restrictions on people’s movements, which will continue at least until Easter Sunday – and most likely a bit beyond that – has provided An Garda Síochána with a difficult challenge. Some people have expressed concerns that we could be heading towards becoming a police state, but the measures are only temporary and largely depend on people’s goodwill and their exercise of the basic logic that the more we obey the new rules, the quicker we will be able to stop the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19 and get back to some sort of normality again.
Signing the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 into law last weekend, President Michael D Higgins said, ‘The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis. It is appropriate that it has time limits and leaves our constitutional rights in place.’
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) executive director, Liam Herrick, said that, before the outbreak of Covid-19, measures that curbed our rights to this extent were almost unimaginable. ‘But we agree with government that these measures are necessary to protect our rights to life and health.’
However, he warned: ‘ICCL will be monitoring the application of the new emergency powers, which should only be exercised in a manner proportionate to the risk to public health. While we support in general the government’s decisive actions up until now, we will be unafraid to challenge them if these new powers are abused in any way.’
The focus of An Garda Síochána’s major nationwide policing operation, involving thousands of gardaí on foot, bike and mobile patrols, is on seeing that people adhere to the public health measures, as announced by An Taoiseach. Commissioner Drew Harris said that An Garda Síochána’s priority is keeping people safe by seeking to ‘encourage’ them to abide by the necessary public health measures, adding that it will intervene where venues or outlets are not in compliance or where groups of people are not adhering to recommended social distancing guidelines.
An Garda Síochána acknowledged that the vast majority of the public are being responsible and are making great efforts to implement the public health measures. It is important, however, for families staying active and availing of fresh air and exercise that they do so within 2km of their own homes.
They should not attend popular locations for overly-long periods and, where the number of persons starts to increase at any location, to leave such areas, as the presence of large crowds in any one area reduces the effective impact of social distancing.
Deputy Commissioner in charge of Policing and Security, John Twomey, promised that Garda members will pro-actively engage positively with people: ‘An Garda Síochána will police, as it has always done, with the consent of the people. It is in everybody’s interest that people comply with these measures.’
Inevitably, they will come up against resistance from some people who don’t give a damn about the greater good and are only interested in causing trouble purely for the sake of doing so. Those people, some of whom had contracted Covid-19 and who deliberately coughed in to the faces of healthcare workers and even Minister for Health Simon Harris last week, are beneath contempt and should be subjected to the full rigour of the law.
As President Michael D Higgins said, ‘These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end. Let us make sure that, through the decisions and actions we take at present, we ensure the health and safety of each other, all of us together.’