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'I really needed some fish'- we join gardai on the checkpoints

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Inspector Peter Woods, from Roads Policing at Dublin Castle, oversees Garda checkpoints enforcing Covid-19 travel restrictions on the N11 at Bray Co Wicklow yesterday

Inspector Peter Woods, from Roads Policing at Dublin Castle, oversees Garda checkpoints enforcing Covid-19 travel restrictions on the N11 at Bray Co Wicklow yesterday

Inspector Peter Woods, from Roads Policing at Dublin Castle, oversees Garda checkpoints enforcing Covid-19 travel restrictions on the N11 at Bray Co Wicklow yesterday

Shoppers wanting to go to their favourite stores were testing the patience of gardai at Covid-19 checkpoints yesterday as efforts continued to persuade members of the public to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus.

More than 600 checkpoints are being manned by gardai across the country over Easter to persuade the public not to travel outside the 2km restriction zone from their homes, unless they are in the exempt categories of motorists.

Major 24-hour checkpoints were set up on motorways and main arterial routes out of Dublin, and checkpoints were also implemented all over the country, with a particular focus on those leading to seaside resorts or beauty spots.

Watch

Over 500 checkpoints were set up on secondary routes to keep watch for people using back roads in the hope they would avoid the motorway checkpoints.

Operation Fanacht was launched by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Wednesday and it will continue until midnight on Monday.

On the N11 and M11, stretching south from Donnybrook in Dublin, the road was busier than expected for a bank holiday weekend during the Covid-19 lockdown.

At Belfield at 11am, four gardai had established a checkpoint just beyond Montrose and were stopping every car travelling south.

One car that was forced to turn back on to the city-bound carriage was being driven by a man who lived in the city centre but who wanted to go to Cornelscourt shopping centre to pick up some groceries.

"People who have a favourite or regular shop still want to go there, and we are explaining to them that there are dozens of shops closer to their homes," said one garda after forcing the car to turn back.

Back down the line, another garda was having a chat with a driver in a large, expensive SUV.

"There's a difference between an essential journey and a trip out of town to your favourite shop," he told them before turning them back toward the city.

A cyclist on the cycle lane was quizzed about his journey, which was obviously one for exercise, but when it was established he was not far from home he was allowed to proceed.

Further south on the M11 near Bray, just over the Wicklow border, a larger and more permanent checkpoint was being manned by seven gardai under the supervision of Inspector Peter Woods of the Roads Policing Division based in Dublin Castle.

"There is a high degree of compliance, and people have letters from their employers or they are driving commercial vehicles," he said.

Again, he noted that it was shoppers looking to travel beyond their 2km range who were taking up the attention.

"We are turning the occasional car around but the drivers seem resigned to it when it happens. We're not getting any anger back," he said.

Asked what levels of unreasonable behaviour his team had encountered in recent days, he did not have to think for long.

"There was a guy from Templeogue who was driving all the way to Howth to buy some fish," he said.

Back on the M11, a garda who had been questioning a man about the purpose of his journey asked him to pull over for a longer chat. He was eventually directed back to where he came from.

Lies

"He had lied when asked about his journey. He said he was going to see his sick grandmother who has cancer, and when I asked him to ring her he said he had no phone credit, so I rang the number from my phone and it turned out it was his mother and she was not sick at all," the garda said afterwards.

Gardai tried to reduce the size of tailbacks on motorways by setting up checkpoints near intersections with flyovers.

Anyone being asked to turn back would be directed on to the slip roads to the flyovers, where other gardai would make sure they turned back.

"With single occupancy cars it is generally somebody who is going about their work, or doing an essential shop, but when you see two or more in a car you have to ask why," said one garda.

Shortly afterwards a garda stopped a car with a couple in the front and a young child in the back. He explained that he was on his way back home after dropping off equipment to his workplace.

The garda has a stern word with him.

"That's not an essential journey and it is something you could have done on your own," he said.

"But by bringing your wife and child the perception to your neighbours is that it is acceptable and they think it's OK to do the same, and then we have a domino effect."

The driver accepted the garda's point and was allowed to continue because he was on his way home anyway.