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Gardai will assess risks before searching property for drugs

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Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has described the coronavirus outbreak as ‘an exceptional event’

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has described the coronavirus outbreak as ‘an exceptional event’

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has described the coronavirus outbreak as ‘an exceptional event’

Gardai have said that drug units across the country "need to pay particular attention" to which properties they raid in the coming weeks because of coronavirus, according to senior sources.

"All planned drugs searches need to be operationally accessed now. That does not mean that the drug dealers are going to get off," a senior source said last night.

"But what it might mean is that gardai will not be carrying out the raid as originally planned in a normal environment before this crisis developed."

Gardai said it was a "decision-making process" in relation to which properties they may raid in the coming days, based on "multiple factors" and not just the quantity of illegal drugs stored in a suspected location.

"Drugs units and all specialist national units are working as normal. Of course, the virus situation has meant their work requires particular attention," a senior source said last night.

Senior garda management have also denied that they will discontinue large-scale checkpoints targeting drink and drug-drivers because of hygiene concerns over the virus.

"There could still be checkpoints, but that will be up to local garda management, but perhaps they need to be minimised in a major way to stop any infection," a senior source said.

"Gardai are now more likely to use traditional powers of arrest in relation to drink and drug-driving offences.

"For example, detecting drivers who are driving erratically or having a smell of alcohol from their person, but at this stage Garda HQ are not saying that the checkpoints are over."

Meanwhile, the cell areas of two of the biggest garda stations in the country remained in lockdown last night because of virus concerns.

A number of gardai have been placed in isolation after three foreign nationals were taken to Store Street and Kevin Street stations by officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB).

In Store Street, a Brazilian couple were awaiting test results for a second day with a source describing it as a "complete and utter joke that these prisoners have not yet been tested".

Drafted

It came as it emerged yesterday that more than 300 garda students are to be drafted into the force in an effort to limit the effects of coronavirus.

Gardai announced several measures in relation to the delay phase of Covid-19.

A contingency roster will come into effect from Monday and will see current garda members rostered, along with around 325 students at the Garda College who will be attested as garda members next week and allocated to stations nationally in the coming weeks.

In a letter to members yesterday, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris described the situation as an "exceptional event" and said a "Covid-19 co-ordination unit" had been set up in Garda Headquarters "to ensure a co-ordinated approach when dealing with issues around the Covid-19 virus". The unit will operate on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week.

As part of the measures announced yesterday, members of An Garda Siochana scheduled to avail of the severance package on April 1 have now been invited to defer their retirement for three months so that they too can help to bolster the garda team.

Annual leave will also be restricted to no more than 5pc of a Divisional/Bureau workforce at any given time.

As a result of the special circumstances, garda members of all ranks who have reached compulsory retirement age can apply to remain in the force for an extra 12 months.

Garda members working as tutors and instructors at the Garda College will also be deployed to operational duties or essential training services.

Training at the college will be deferred until further notice except for specialist training activity like firearms, driver and armed support.

Meanwhile, last night the Irish Prison Service said it was in discussion with the Department of Justice about a number of contingency measures to reduce the number of people in custody "in a controlled manner".

"The primary factor in the consideration of any prisoner for early release is public safety," the statement said.