Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Garda checkpoints have become part of the ‘new normal’ of recent months. Photo: The Irish Times

Gardaí conducting foot patrols or checkpoints will be equipped with facemasks if social distancing cannot be maintained, news which has been welcomed by the Garda Representatives Association (GRA). But priority testing for officers remains unresolved, much to the GRA’s dissatisfaction.

GRA President Jim Mulligan said his organisation “has been arguing for greater use of facemasks by gardaí”.

On Friday last, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) noted that facemasks should be worn by the public in a range of circumstances. In response, Garda management instructed members to wear masks if and when social distancing can’t be maintained.

Said Mr Mulligan: “The GRA has been arguing for many weeks for greater use of facemasks by gardaí. We suggested that members should be equipped with masks on outdoor duties which they can put on based on their own Dynamic Risk Assessment of any situation.” This involves identifying environmental hazards on the spot and taking appropriate action to protect themselves – and others.

“The absence of facemasks at checkpoints has been a cause of concern to the public,” said Jim Mulligan. “Now there is a protocol that says if a garda cannot stay two metres away from a vehicle, for instance on a narrow road, they should put on a facemask.”

Meanwhile, the GRA believes priority testing for officers is “an urgent necessity”. This newspaper spoke to a Waterford-born officer in a Leinster division who has covered for “a couple of lads who had (Covid-19) symptoms” in recent weeks.

“We are seeking that the Garda Occupational Health Department engage immediately with the HSE to develop protocols and a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to provide for the emergency testing of our members following assaults such as being spat at or other close interactions with persons suspected of having the Covid-19 virus,” said Jim Mulligan.

“Such an SLA should provide for the taking of a sample at the earliest opportunity with immediate testing to follow; coupled with appropriate contact tracing as soon as possible if the test returns positive. Gardaí are wondering why they were never given priority testing considering so many other frontline workers are getting it. When you have been spat at by someone claiming to be Covid-19 infected, the risk of infection is clearly a lot higher. Yet under the current arrangements, gardaí must join the queue.”

Mr Mulligan stated: “Turnaround times for the general population are not reliable, and therefore totally inappropriate. Currently, gardaí and their families face an anxious wait – and inconvenience – to find out if they have been infected with a deadly disease which may they have spread to family members – and colleagues. This shows a shocking disregard for our members and their families.”

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