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Gardaí unhappy over lockdown fines


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Garda headquarters and the Department of Justice did not back the introduction of on-the-spot fines for enforcing Covid-19 restrictions to become law this weekend.

The Government is preparing legislation that would see the public face fines of up to €500 for breaching the 5km travel limit introduced as part of lockdown measures. In addition, fines of €1,000 will be issued to those who organise house parties during current Level 5 restrictions.

Well-placed sources told the Sunday Independent that the Department of Health proposed the on-the-spot fines, only to be met with opposition from the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána.

One source described the new fines as a "horrendously bad" idea. Gardaí are awaiting details on how to enforce the new penalties as well as instructions on how they will be issued and where they will be paid.

"It will be an administrative nightmare. The early advice from Garda headquarters is to use these new powers very, very sparingly when it does come in. There are enough excuses in the armoury under Level 5 to be out driving outside your 5km anyway. But we don't want to drive society into a 'catch me if you can' mode."

The senior officer added that An Garda Síochána "will of course enforce the new laws" but "that doesn't make it a good idea. Those who get these fines will fight them and all will be entitled to legal aid in court".

A separate source added that "the only positive thing" about the new fines system will be how it can be used by gardaí against organised criminals.

"We can use it to track and put pressure on criminals on the move. It could be a useful piece of weaponry to put pressure on organised criminals and will be used to that effect as much as possible," said a senior source.

On Friday, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed reservations about the use of fines for enforcing Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Harris refused to say he fully supported the penalties, telling reporters: "I'll do as I'm told". He said the enforcement measures would be used only as a "last resort".

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Asked if he supported the measures, he replied: "The good thing is the piece of legislation backs this up. I'm a public servant, a good and faithful servant at that, and I'll do as I'm told."

Mr Harris last month expressed reservations to the Policing Authority about the "more draconian" route of on-the-spot fines, which have been used in Northern Ireland and Britain.

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