Garda defends policing of large gatherings during Covid-19

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Press Association
The Garda Commissioner has defended the force’s policing of house parties and social gatherings in the middle of the pandemic.

Drew Harris warned against the “serious escalation” of garda powers when it came to breaking up house parties in private homes.

Video footage of large numbers of young people gathering in the streets near Spanish Arch in Galway and at the Oliver Bond complex in Dublin in recent weeks has drawn criticism of the Garda’s enforcement of the public health guidelines.

The Commissioner was questioned about the matter by the Policing Authority on Wednesday.

Mr Harris said it had been “difficult” and that there was “no simple answer to it” because people have constitutional rights in terms of the protection of the homeplace.

“We do our best within the powers available to us to deal with the event…..and to bring the party to an end through persuasion.

“That may not fulfil some of the public concern in respect of that but to start moving further in terms of entering a home to break up a party that is a serious escalation in terms of our enforcement powers.

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“It’s a road we should be very careful before we step down on.”

He said members of the Garda in Galway had attended the scene at Claddagh Basin across the river from the Spanish Arch and were a “visible and substantial presence” but that they also had to deal with a significant number of house parties in the greater Galway area at the same time.

“It was irresponsible behaviour by individuals in terms of just what was organised,” he said.

“But these matters are not straightforward in the present health regulations.”

He said the presence of gardai on the scene had the effect of “dampening down the whole ambience” of the event and they had encouraged people to return to their residences.

“We do have a regulatory provision in terms of who might organise such an event,” he said.

“But when you have in effect individuals congregating over social media it’s very difficult to point the finger at any one individual and say ‘you’re the one that organised that’.”

He added that when they could pinpoint a definite event organiser then gardai are in the position to investigate and report that person to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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Moling Ryan of the Policing Authority said they had received feedback that when it came to the police’s handling of the gathering at the Oliver Bond complex that “a period of time had lapsed” from when the issue was reported to gardai and when they arrived on scene.

Commissioner Harris said the Garda’s understanding of the Oliver Bond event “was somewhat different to what was reported”.

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey said: “At first the behaviour did not step across that divide in to the breach of the legislation and the breach of law.

“It was only a subsequent point and time later in the evening when the numbers had grown …that some of the behaviour became unacceptable and then we dealt with it.”

“I wouldn’t quite agree that it was an inappropriate response,” Mr Twomey added.

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