Questioning and surveillance by Gardaí

Garda powers for questioning and surveillance

When the Gardaí are investigating and detecting crime they are entitled to observe the actions of members of the public.

Gardaí must act in accordance with the law when questioning members of the public. The Gardaí are given certain powers to stop and question the public.

If a Garda is investigating a criminal offence, they are entitled to seek the co-operation of anyone by asking the person questions about what they saw or heard.

There is generally no legal obligation to answer any such questions or to co-operate with the Gardaí.

When a Garda stops you in public

Common law powers

Most of the powers given to the Gardaí to stop and question members of the public are set out in legislation (known as statutory powers). However, there are a number of instances where a Garda is entitled to stop and question you where no statutory power exists. This is known as a common law power.

An example of this would be where a Garda observes you acting suspiciously late at night in an area where a lot of crimes are being committed. The Garda is entitled to stop you to detect and prevent crime. You are under no legal obligation to co-operate with the Garda and the Garda cannot use force to restrain your freedom under common law, short of arresting you.

Do I you have to give a Garda my name and address?

If the Garda has reasonable grounds for suspecting that you committed certain offences, the Garda can demand your name and address. If you refuse to give this information, then the Garda can arrest you.

Do you have to stop your car for a Garda?

The Gardaí have a common law power to stop motorists at random in order to detect and prevent crime. This can be used, for example, to stop cars near pubs to identify drunk drivers or to check cars passing through an area where a lot of crime had been committed.

You must also stop your vehicle when required to do so by a Garda under Section 109 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. They can stop you if they are inspecting vehicle tax, insurance certificates, driving licenses and road worthiness of vehicles.

Do you have to answer questions when stopped by a Garda?

There are many laws that allow the Gardaí to stop you for certain purposes. One law which specifically permits a Garda to stop and question you, short of arresting you, is section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act 1939.

Section 30 gives the Gardaí the power to stop you as a suspect in a public place. It also gives them the power to stop any vehicle, or any ship, boat or other vessel for the purposes of questioning and searching, and if necessary, arresting the suspect.

Surveillance by Gardaí

The Gardaí regularly use surveillance on people and locations to detect and prevent crime. Surveillance is used in a number of situations.

If, for example, you are suspected of being involved in criminal activities you may be placed under surveillance. Similarly, when the Gardaí have information that a crime is to be committed at a certain location, they may decide to place that premises or location under surveillance. The decision to place a person or premises under surveillance is primarily one for the Gardaí but must be made within the law.

Use of recording devices by the Gardaí

The Gardaí have authority to use recording devices in public places or any other place they are entitled to be under the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Act 2023 as commenced by S.I. 215/2024.  

Different types of recording devices can be used by Gardaí, including:

  • Body worn cameras
  • Smartphones
  • Dashcams
  • Cameras on garda animals (such as dogs or horses)
  • Drones.

Gardaí can use recording devices where necessary and proportionate for the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences and for public order purposes.

If the Gardaí are using body worn cameras, these cameras cannot be hidden. The camera must be visible and the camera must also indicate when it is on.

If a garda is using any recording device in someone’s home, the people present should be notified by the Gardaí.

It is intended for Gardaí to use body worn cameras on a pilot basis in five police stations. The pilot will follow a Code of Practice on the use of body worn cameras. This page will be updated when further information is available.

Secret surveillance authorisation

Secret surveillance to combat serious criminal, subversive or terrorist activity can be conducted under the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. The Act provides for a procedure where judges can authorise such surveillance. It also has a complaints procedure.

Can the gardaí listen to my phone calls and search my post?

It is a criminal offence for anyone to intercept a telephone call, letter or package addressed to someone else, if they don’t have legal authorisation to do so.

The Gardaí have the power to use technology to keep people under surveillance. These powers are under the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993.

Minister’s authorisation for surveillance

The interception of phone calls and opening of postal letters and packages can also be authorised by the Minister for Justice. Only the Garda Commissioner can apply to the Minister to authorise this in relation to criminal offences.

If the offence is in relation to state security, the Garda Commissioner and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces (Army) can apply for authorisation.

A judge of the High Court is responsible for monitoring the operation of any interception of phone calls or packages to ensure the intercepts are only confined to those authorised by the Minister.

Your rights with surveillance and recording

Right not to be stalked or harassed

Everyone in Ireland enjoys a general freedom to observe the movements of others and, indeed, to observe the property of others. While this is true, the manner of such observations cannot be such as to cause alarm or distress to another person.

Section 10 of the Non-fatal Offences Against the Persons Act 1997

You have a legal protection from being stalked or harassed. However, this protection does not prevent lawful surveillance by the Gardaí conducted in an appropriate manner.

Constitutional right to privacy

Everyone has a fundamental constitutional right to privacy. Surveillance by neighbours, spouses, private investigators, or stalkers can potentially breach this right to privacy.

Data Protection

You are protected from unjustified surveillance under the General Data Protection Regulation.

Access to Garda records

You can make a request to the Garda Síochána for a copy of any personal data that it has about you. In certain circumstances, the Gardaí can refuse access.

Further information

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties provide a Know your rights - Criminal Justice & Garda Powers (pdf) that covers arrest and other garda powers.

Read more about your rights if you have been arrested and are being interviewed by the Garda Síochána.

Check what happens when a suspect in a criminal investigation makes a statement or makes a confession.

Read about your right to silence in criminal cases.

Read about the powers of search by Gardaí.

Read about how to access certain information about you on Garda records.

Dáta an Leasaithe Deireanaigh: 23 Bealtaine 2024