Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality

Civil Liberties during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Discussion

Ms Antoinette Cunningham:

The decision to introduce enforcement measures is a political decision. It is a Government decision and it falls to us to carry out that enforcement when we are required to do so. I agree with Mr. Herrick from the ICCL. In the initial days of the lockdown and the initial days of policing the Covid pandemic there were extremely high levels of co-operation without the need for the introduction of fines at that time. As we moved through the pandemic, the public started to tire of the restrictions and enforcement became a greater challenge for the members of the AGSI.

I agree on having more ways of communication. The difficulty for our members is that we must return to a society where we want to police by consent. If there is over-regulation at any point then that return becomes more challenging and difficult. We want to maintain the community-based approach that we have. We want to maintain relationships. More public awareness could have been done on the reasons for the necessity to continue with enforcement regulations and why they were needed by Government. The public now seems to have forgotten the reasons for the regulations being in place. Instead, they just see them as Garda regulations. It is almost becoming a situation for members of the Garda where they are damned if they do and damned if they do not. If we do not enforce, people will ask where we are. If we do enforce, we are seen as too heavy-handed. It is a very difficult situation for the AGSI members. We are concerned about this. The model of engage, explain, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce, was a strong model and one that worked well for us.