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25th June 2020, 18:05:06 UTC

In light of information secured by Amnesty International Northern Ireland from the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) that spit hoods offer no protection against airborne COVID-19, and so may actually increase infection risk, Amnesty International Ireland and the Irish Council Civil Liberties have today written to An Gardaí Síochána seeking an end to the use of spit hoods in the Republic.

A spit hood is a controversial restraint device about which both organisations have previously raised human rights concerns including the risk that they may restrict breathing and cause extreme distress to the arrested person.

Gardaí have said the spit hoods were to be deployed only for the duration of the health crisis and their use will be reviewed in September. But given the information from the PSNI that the spit hoods they are using are not manufactured to “prevent aerosols from coughing or sneezing and is therefore not an effective means to prevent Covid-19”, their use in the Republic during the pandemic must be immediately ended, pending full scientific and technical review of their effectiveness.

The process of fitting the hood, and the likely ensuing struggle, could also result in a ‘cloud of virus particles’ as the struggle is likely to be a significant aerosol generating event. Once placed over someone’s head, the spit hoods themselves would do nothing to prevent the further spread of the virus via coughing, sneezing or exhalation The use of spit hoods could therefore not only fail to offer the protection, but could in fact place Garda members in greater peril.

“We completely appreciate the risks facing the Gardaí in policing during the pandemic, and spitting and threats to infect people are abhorrent. But this new information that spit hoods will not stop the spread of this deadly virus, and may actually increase the risk of infection, is startling. Unless the Gardaí can produce evidence to the contrary, they must immediately end their use,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“The use of spit hoods must be a last resort, and must be proportionate and necessary. But if they are increasing the risks of transmission for both the Garda and the person being arrested, than that is clearly not within these standards.”

“Hooding has long been considered a form of inhuman or degrading treatment by human rights experts. In light of this new information that spit hoods don’t actually protect Gardaí as previously thought, it is even more urgent that An Garda Síochána end their use now,” said Liam Herrick, Executive Director of ICCL.

Outside of potential risks to officer safety, Amnesty and ICCL are also concerned about the potential risks of using these devices on individuals who are ill with COVID-19, or in recovery from it. It is known that COVID-19 causes severe breathing difficulties, including damage to the lungs and airways. Any use of force that can restrict or impair breathing in these circumstances therefore presents additional risks of adverse outcomes. In addition, any struggle, panic, stress, or anxiety caused by the act of applying and using a spit hood is likely to cause extra stress on the respiratory system irrespective of the breathability of the hood itself.