There is specific legislation in place to deal with assaults on emergency workers in front-line positions. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, provides explicit statutory protection for what are termed “peace officers”, which include members of the Garda Síochána, prison officers, members of the fire brigade, ambulance personnel and members of the Defence Forces. The Act also covers those working in medical services in hospitals, including doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and others involved in the provision of treatment and care. Section 19 of the 1994 Act provides that any person who assaults or threatens to assault any of these front-line workers is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to €5,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months or both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term of up to 7 years or both. The maximum sentence was increased from 5 years to 7 years under the 2006 Act.
It is also an offence under the 1994 Act, as amended, to resist, wilfully obstruct or impede a peace officer, or medical staff in a hospital, in the course of carrying out their work. The penalty on summary conviction for such an offence is a fine of up to €2,500 or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months or both.
In addition, in the case of assault causing serious harm, an offender can be prosecuted under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 which deals comprehensively with a wide range of assault provisions, the more serious of which carry heavy penalties. That Act provides for penalties of up to 5 years in prison for an offence of assault causing harm and for a penalty of life imprisonment for an offence of causing serious harm. This general law relating to assault has application to all citizens, including front-line emergency workers.
In conclusion, the law already recognises the need to protect members of the emergency services carrying out their duties and provides strong penalties where offences against front-line workers are committed. While there are currently no proposals for further legislation in this regard, the situation is kept under review.