04 Oct 2022

Judge says Gardai were in 'difficult position' over Covid-19 hospitality measures

Judge Deirdre Gearty was speaking in the case of a west Donegal publican who was brought before the court for breaches of the restrictions

Judge says Gardai were in 'difficult position' over Covid-19 hospitality measures

A District Court judge says that Gardaí were placed in a ‘very difficult position’ over the imposition of Covid-19 regulations.

Judge Deirdre Gearty was speaking at Falcarragh District Court, where publican Damien Whoriskey appeared on separate charges relating to breaches of the Health Act.

Whoriskey, a 35-year-old from Middle Keeldrum, Gortahork operates Teach Bhillie in Gortahork.

He was before the court after Gardai found a number of tradesmen actively engaged in work on the premises in March 2021. He also appeared on a separate charge after Gardaí found breaches of the regulations during an inspection of the pub in December 2020.

The court heard that on March 18, 2021, Gardaí responded to a report of an alleged breach of Covid-19 restrictions at the premises.

Gardaí inspected the pub and found a number of plasterers, plumbers and electrical workers engaged on site.

When informed of the obligations under the Health Act, the workers all stopped work and began tidying up. An hour later, the court heard, the workers had left the premises.

Two of the workers appeared before a previous sitting of the court and made charitable donations.

Whoriskey was also charged with a further breach of the Act on December 22, 2020.

Sergeant Gallagher and Garda Gillespie visited Teach Bhillie at 9.05pm. 

On one side of the pub, there were people sitting at six tables. Each table had drinks of various stages of consumption and there was no evidence of food.

There were no physical screens present and people were within two metres of each other, the court was told.

On the other side of the pub, there were people sitting at five tables and, again, there were drinks of various stages of consumption.

There was no evidence of food, menus or cutlery.

Only five names were on a register with no lead person indicated.

Inspector Seamus McGonagle said there were no receipt times listed for orders.

“It was’t possible to have social distancing and there was no proper ventilation,” Inspector McGonagle said.

The inspection was completed at 9.25pm and when Gardaí returned at 10.45pm the premises was cleared.

Solicitor for Whoriskey, Mr Patsy Gallagher, said his client was a businessman in a country area and was ‘doing his level best’.

“This wasn’t a case where people were standing on top of each other at the bar,” Mr Gallagher said.

“This was on the lesser scale of such happenings. The place wasn’t jammed with people dancing on tables. Within an hour, it was closed. 

“The man is an employer in the area and he did was he was told to do: Close up.”

Mr Gallagher asked the court to leave his client without a conviction.

“The Gardaí were placed in a very difficult position around the enforcement of those regulations,” Judge Gearty said. “People in rural areas perceived themselves as being very different. It caused all kinds of difficulty, particularly for older people who found it troublesome.

“That needs to be said, as it is important.”

However, Judge Gearty added: ‘The law is the law. We don’t make it but it it has to be enforced and it has to be upheld.”

Judge Gearty branded the December 2020 incident ‘opportunistic’.

Whoriskey was told if he made a €1000 donation to the Donegal Hospice the matters would be struck out. Upon production of a receipt for the sum, Judge Gearty struck out the cases against Whoriskey.

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