The Garda Commissioner has said the pandemic has been a major drain on its resources and will continue to be so in the coming months.

He said the policing of the pandemic has required a huge effort and has meant closing down significant areas, including training.

Drew Harris also told a meeting of the Policing Authority that domestic abuse remains a major concern.

He said 2020 saw an 18% increase in domestic abuse calls to around 42,000.

He said the latest statistics for 2021 show that 82% of those callers received contact back from An Garda Síochána within seven days.

The Commissioner also said that online fraud was growing and he expressed concern about the trade of drugs and said there was a huge demand.

In relation to knife crime, the Commissioner said they had not seen a spike in it in Dublin.

He said analysis undertaken by gardaí shows that the idea that such crime is at epidemic level is not borne out by their research.

He also said the narrative in the media about young people carrying knives was also not borne out.

Drew Harris said he was concerned that the more that was talked about it the more chance it becomes a self-fulfulling prophecy.

He said the number of knife incidents is down as is the number of people being discharged from hospital with knife injuries.

The Policing Authority meeting also heard that seizures of knives is up, including in Dublin's north inner city, but that did not necessarily mean that there were "hotspots".

When asked about a University College Cork School of Law report for the Policing Authority which found that some children had negative experiences whilst being detained in garda custody prior to or during interviews, the Commissioner said An Garda Síochána has a zero tolerance approach to any mistreatment of a detained person.

He also said a recent report by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture has been referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

At the meeting, Commissioner Harris expressed his personal sympathy and that of An Garda Síochána to the family of George Nkencho who died after being shot by a member of the Garda Armed Support Unit last December.

He also pointed out that the matter is the subject of an independent GSOC investigation.

Drew Harris also the shooting was a rare incident that also has an affect on An Garda Síochána.

He said the case has also given An Garda Síochána cause for reflection in terms of the relationship with the black and ethnic minority community.

He said he wanted that relationship to be a good one.

Internship program for disadvantaged

The Commissioner said a new paid internship programme is to be introduced to appeal to those who would not normally think of a career in the force.

He said it would be aimed at those from disadvantaged and minority groups.

He also said there is a backlog in Garda training of about 18 months because of the closure of Templemore.

However, he said parts of the college will reopen for some students on 22 March.

Convictions for prostitution could quashed

The Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll told the meeting that some women with convictions for prostitution could have them quashed in recognition of their vulnerability.

He said the exact details of the new arrangements are still to be worked out.

He also said the way the sex industry is now operating is different to they way it was before Covid-19.

He said pre-pandemic, it was associated with nightlife but that had not happened for a year.

He said An Garda Síochána may have had more prosecutions for the buying of sex if these changes had not taken place.

The impact of Brexit 

Asked about the impact of Brexit and the change in haulage routes, Commissioner Harris said that there has been attempts to traffick people on the new Rosslare to Dunkirk route.

Drew Harris said the danger to those being smuggled was that of suffocation because the route was so long.

He said An Garda Síochána was being pro-active in policing the matter to send out a message to traffickers.

The Policing Authority meeting also heard that €8.5 million has been spent in Garda overtime in policing the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began there has been a reduction in some crimes because the night economy is no longer active and because more people are staying in their homes.

Drew Harris also said the extortion of young people who have been duped into sharing intimate images of themselves and then blackmailed, is a serious concern.

He said in recent years, 4 victims of such crimes have died by suicide.

The Commissioner also said he has received a report into anti-spit hoods and that the force was reviewing their use and whether they are necessary.