There were 93 incidents of spitting and/or coughing against gardaí between 8 April and 6 June 2020, while officers had to use anti-spit guards on 70 occasions.

Also during that time, gardaí invoked regulations 302 times out of more than a million interactions, including arrests, six of which were last week.

82 of of those cases have led to prosecutions following consultations with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Most incidents involve a single individual, but some have resulted in charges against multiple people.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said that while the number of spitting incidents has fallen, gardaí "continue to be subjected to despicable spitting and coughing attacks".

This remains a "serious concern", he said, and poses a "significant health and safety risk" to members.

He said it has been made clear that the use of anti-spit guards is a "last resort" and the policy will be reviewed in September of this year.

It has also been revealed that new advice on travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be enforced by gardaí.

Since yesterday, the limits have been widened from within 5km of home, to being able to travel within your own county, or 20km from home if crossing county lines.

However, An Garda Síochána says that under the updated regulations, the 20km limit is "not a penal offence".

Gardaí say that when interacting with the public on this element, they will "engage, explain and encourage".

The Department of Health said regulations around travel restrictions were "proportional measures taken in response to a global pandemic" and "it has always been the case that as soon as it was possible to lift restrictions around people's movement we would do so".

The department said that Government agreed it "wouldn't be proportionate to retain a criminal sanction" around travel, and that it had been advised by the Attorney General that it is a "proportionate and appropriate measure at this stage of the pandemic".

The department said this was "important for the law to be valid and human rights compliant".

While there is no longer a criminal penalty in relation to travel, during Phase 2 of the reopening of the country, gardaí will retain powers when policing gatherings organised for more than 15 people.

Organisers of these types of gatherings could face a fine of up to €2,500 and/or a six-month prison sentence.

Gardaí say that in Phase 2 they are continuing to encourage people to "stay local, not undertake unnecessary journeys, and maintain social distancing".

Additional reporting Paul Reynolds


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