THIS is the mother-of-three who this week became the first person in the country to be jailed for coughing in the face of a garda during the Covid-19 outbreak.
As gardai across the country have come under sustained spitting and coughing attacks during the pandemic, officers and the courts have launched a major crackdown with calls for a zero-tolerance approach to such behaviour.
On Wednesday 34-year-old Rachel Conway became the first person to be jailed in connection with, what she admitted, was an “absolutely horrendous” assault when Judge Kevin Kilrane jailed her for 28 days at a special sitting of Carrick-on-Shannon District Court.
The court heard how Conway coughed directly into the face of an officer on patrol in Sligo at 3.15pm on Tuesday.
Conway, a mother of three from Rusheen Ard, Caltragh, Sligo, faced two counts, one of Section 2 assault of Community Garda Martha Carter and one relating to her refusalto give her name and address.
Garda Carter is a Mayo intercounty footballer who was a member of the beaten 2017 All Ireland finalists and who was nominated for an All Star that year.
The court heard how Garda Carter was on bike patrol when a report came in that a group of people were drinking at the new footbridge at Riverside in Sligo town.
Garda Carter found three females and one male drinking in the area.
She said Conway was “disruptive from the start”, asking the garda what the problem was.
When Garda Carter approached the group Conway told her to “stay away two metres” and then started talking about Covid-19, the court heard.
When the garda asked for names and addresses, all in the group but Conway provided details.
The rest of the group agreed to leave but Conway approached Garda Carter and coughed directly in her face, the court heard.
When Garda Carter said she intended to arrest Conway the defendant again coughed in her face and placed her hand upon the officer’s shoulder, the court heard.
Conway was arrested and brought to Ballymote Garda Station where she later gave her name and address and apologised to Garda Carter.
In court on Wednesday the officer said Conway had been “in very close proximity” to her and “made no effort to cover her mouth or turn her head to either side when she coughed in my face”.
Leitrim Division Garda Superintendent Kevin English said he would be “seeking the protection of the court in relation to the protection of frontline gardai”.
Solicitor Laura Spellman said her client had a “significant amount of alcohol on board”.
Ms Spellman added that Conway had apologised to Garda Carter twice and was once again offering to apologise.
“There is absolutely no excuse I can put forward for her behaviour. She accepts 100 per cent that her behaviour was absolutely horrendous. She’s extremely embarrassed,” said Ms Spellman.
Conway again said sorry to the officer: “I’m very sorry for what happened. I didn’t mean it.”
Ms Spellman said her client was a mother of three who was “having a very difficult time” and intended to make an appointment with her GP to get help as “all she has been doing is drinking” over the last few weeks.
Ms Spellman asked that the judge “leave her client with her liberty”.
Garda Supt English said he could not have a situation where members were threatened by spitting or, in this instance, coughing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The judge noted that coughing in the face of a garda was “nasty” in normal times.
But “in the present context” he would “deal with it severely”.
He pointed out Garda Carter was only doing her duty and enforcing government recommendations about social distancing.
The judge said “a message must be sent out” that gardai and the public must be protected.
He convicted and sentenced Conway to 28 days in prison.
As of yesterday, Conway remained in custody at the Dochas Women’s Centre in Dublin.
In a statement, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said it believes the penalty was “entirely appropriate".
It sent a “clear message” to anyone contemplating an “attack on a frontline worker,” said Ray Wims, GRA spokesperson for Sligo-Leitrim.