Garda files on Rathkeale Covid investigation to go to Director of Public Prosecutions

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Local Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins contacted Gardaí about the videos circulating online

GARDAÍ are preparing files for the Director of Public Prosecutions as part of investigations into alleged flouting of mask wearing and social distancing guidelines in the town of Rathkeale.

Gardai said they encountered large gatherings in the town over recent days.

It follows the sharing of videos on social media of Christmas house parties which are said to have taken place in Rathkeale in recent days.

One of the videos, believed to have been recorded in Rathkeale in recent days, shows a group of sweaty topless men hugging one another in a house with Christmas decorations.

A Garda spokesman confirmed that “files are being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions following incidents encountered by Gardaí in Rathkeale across the Christmas period involving gatherings by large groups at private establishments and on public thoroughfares in the town”.

In response to a query about the videos circulating online, the spokesman said: “An Garda Síochána does not comment on statements made by third parties or materials provided by third parties. An Garda Síochána is committed to acting in a proportionate manner and working with the community to achieve compliance.

“The Covid-19 pandemic remains a public health crisis and An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to all citizens to comply with Public Health Guidelines and Regulations,” the spokesman added.

While some locals have complained that Rathkeale has been unfairly singled out, others said that some visitors to the town have flouted the rules by attending house parties and not adhering to rules around mask wearing and social distancing.

Locals have also expressed concern over the potential spread of Covid-19 in the town with over 1,000 members of the Traveller community arriving into Rathkeale in recent days from the UK and beyond.

Every year the town’s population effectively doubles to around 3,000 as emigrants return to visit relatives, attend weddings, christenings and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

With a mutant form coronavirus first discovered in the UK and now found in Ireland, locals also expressed concern that some visitors to the town who have transited through or directly from Britain could spread the new variant of the virus which is said to be 70% more transmissible.

Local Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins, who contacted Gardaí about the videos circulating online, said he believes there needs to be a greater Garda presence in Rathkeale.

“I’ve asked for more Garda resources to be dedicated to the town. The videos circulating are very alarming, and the local community is very concerned and upset and they feel forgotten about and left behind,” said Deputy Collins.

Meanwhile, Martin Collins, co-director of Traveller rights group Pavee Point, criticised anyone who has travelled to Rathkeale from abroad during the pandemic.

He said “everybody is absolutely right to be concerned about Rathkeale” and reiterated that anyone, including members of the Traveller community, thinking of traveling to Rathkeale should stay put at home and not go there.

Figures published by the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre from December 8 to 21, show that the Adare-Rathkeale area, which has a population of over 27,000 and extends far beyond Rathkeale town and into other west Limerick towns and villages, is above the national average at 353.7 per 100,000 population, with 98 cases in total.

Other parts in Limerick are also above the national average, including Newcastle West and City East.

Communications specialist with Public Health Mid West, Fintan Walsh, tweeted that, between last Tuesday and Friday “there was an increase of 240 Covid-19 cases in Limerick”.

Limerick’s 14-day incidence rate was 334.5 per 100,000 after 652 cases were recorded the past two weeks. “We have yet to see the impact of Christmas celebrations,” Mr Walsh added.

A Garda spokesman said “the Department of Health are the lead Department with regard to the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

He explained that temporary restrictions and regulations under the Health Act 1947 provides for restriction on travel and provides a long list of reasonable excuse.

“These regulations provide for organised outdoor events in certain circumstances, and provision of business, including food and intoxicating liquor. An Garda Síochána’s function is to check that business are open as provided for by the regulations and once a business is legitimately open, the conduct of the business is in accordance with public health guidelines.”

“The wearing of face masks and social distancing is a matter of  personal social responsibility and not penal regulations. An Garda Síochána can only enforce penal regulations, not guidelines,” the spokesman explained.

Gardai have no function in monitoring compliance of international travel restrictions and guidelines, however, Gardaí “have and will continue to adopt a graduated policing response based on its tradition of policing by consent.

“This has seen Garda members engage, explain, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce,” he concluded.