Analysis: Gardaí frustrated at lack of pub enforcement powers 

‘We’re being asked to pretend to enforce a law that everyone knows doesn’t exist’ – garda 
 
The shame of a nation was directed at the Berlin D2 bar in Dublin’s south inner city last weekend when video emerged of a barman hanging off the bar pouring the contents of a bottle of spirits down punters’ necks. 
On the face of it, the incident on Dame Lane was an obvious breach of public health measures designed to allow pubs reopen. But look a little closer at those scenes and, under the law, there was very little to report. 
 
Indeed, it is understood no specific laws were broken and no Covid-19 regulations were even breached. A close inspection of the footage may uncover relaxed social distancing practices but the advice on social distancing is just that – advice. It is neither a law nor regulation, even in pubs and restaurants. 
 
And therein lies the problem for the Garda, the Government and National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) trying to keep the public on a path that ensures the Covid-19 infection is frustrated in its quest to jump from person to person while also keeping society, especially the economy, open. 
 
Many gardaí who spoke to The Irish Times said they were being asked to provide a presence that fostered co-operation with the public health measures but they had no power to take enforcement proceedings against anyone flouting the measures. 
 
“We’re being asked to inspect pubs but we have no power to do anything if we find there’s too many people in them or food isn’t being served,” said one frontline garda. “So I’d say either give us the power to take action when we find something or else don’t ask us to do the inspections. We’re being asked to pretend to enforce a law that everyone knows doesn’t exist.” 
 
Other members said a similar situation existed with the localised lockdown at present in Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Gardaí mounted 354 checkpoints last weekend but do so with no powers to take any action against those ignoring the advice to stay in their home county, unless travelling for work or an urgent matter. 
 
New regulations 
Garda sources believe new regulations should be drawn up to give them the power to close pubs on the spot if required and to break up gatherings of people, either indoors or outdoors. Some suggested enforcement actions resulting in a court appearance, conviction and large fine or prison sentence was too severe, saying new on-the-spot fines – of maybe up to €500 or €1,000 – should be created. 
 
“The regulations would be drawn up and they’d be clear like the way they were when you couldn’t travel more than 2km or 5km from home without a reason; that was simple and easy to understand for everyone,” said one source. 
 
“At least with fines, real action could be taken against people who weren’t willing to take on personal responsibility. It would deter a lot of people and you’d have a bit of clarity back again. I think people are just confused now, more confused than a few months ago.” 
 
Another source said there was deep frustration within the Garda. “The media keeps saying the guards may be getting new powers. But we have no powers at all. Can somebody not write that?” 
 
A colleague agreed: “We’re doing checkpoints in three counties and inspecting pubs all over the country and we have no powers to do those operations.” 
 
A number of gardaí said they were very surprised new regulations were not unveiled on Tuesday night when Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly reintroduced Covid-19 public health restrictions and reiterated other advice. 
 
“They were on the TV and across the media with the whole country looking on and that was the time to make that strong and clear message and to make it stronger and clearer with some new enforcement bits and pieces. But they’ve missed the chance,” said one source. 
 
The official word is that Mr Donnelly and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee are consulting the Attorney General about new enforcement measures. 
 
Mr Donnelly has suggested new legislation would be required, meaning the Dáil would need to be recalled or the legislation delayed until after the summer recess. 
 
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