Check Against Delivery
Statement by Minister Flanagan on the Garda response to recent protests at the occupation of vacant buildings
Tuesday, 18 September 2018
A Cheann Comhairle,
I am pleased to be in a position to respond to Deputies Daly, Wallace and Collins on these matters.
The Deputies will be aware of course that the deployment of Gardaí and, indeed, any Garda operation, is solely a matter for An Garda Síochána.
The Taoiseach addressed these issues yesterday during Leaders’ Questions but I can perhaps add some additional detail to the record today.
The Garda Commissioner has issued a statement on the incident referred to above so we all now have greater clarity about what took place.
I am advised by the Garda authorities that following an order of the High Court, a small number of community Gardaí were present to keep the peace, facilitate a peaceful protest and facilitate the enforcement of the High Court order. Gardaí were not involved in the vacation of the premises which had been illegally occupied.
A private security firm acted for the owner of the premises on foot of the High Court order. The law and procedures governing the execution of Court Orders are contained in the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts and the Rules of Court made under them, and any dispute in relation to the enforcement of a Court Order is solely a matter for the Courts. Accordingly, the persons involved in the execution of the High Court order are not licensable by the Private Security Authority at present, but my officials are currently examining the law governing this area and I intend to give this matter further consideration.
As An Garda Síochána has stated, a small number of community Gardaí were initially present, as the situation evolved, they were supplemented by more Gardaí and then a small number of officers from the Public Order Unit were deployed. To be clear, the purpose of the Garda present was to keep the peace, facilitate a peaceful protest and allow an order of the High Court to be enforced.
I know there was some disquiet about member of the Public Order Unit wearing hoods. The Commissioner has said they should have been worn in conjunction with helmets – and members would be familiar with public order police around the world wearing helmets in the course of their policing duties.
It is a sad fact and a worrying development that Gardaí, and particularly those who undertake public order policing, are frequently personally targeted and subjected to vile abuse and threats, particularly online. At the protest itself, the Gardaí were subject to sustained abuse, including in one incident, racist abuse. I condemn that behaviour as I’m sure all members of this House do. Where behaviour crosses the line into criminality, it may be investigated but it would be preferable if the crime didn’t occur at all and I am appealing to people to recognise that Gardaí simply doing their jobs should not be targeted in this way. This is a message that needs to go out from this House, and from all sides, and I would ask colleagues to join me in reinforcing that message.
A small number of people were arrested at the protest for public order offences. As these matters are the subject of ongoing Garda inquiries, the House will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on those cases.
I note Commissioner Harris’s recent statement in relation to the protest and I understand he has requested a report from the Assistant Commissioner, DMR, to see what lessons can be learned from the event. I also note that the Policing Authority will be pursuing this matter with An Garda Síochána too.
Finally, A Cheann Comhairle, I know that everyone in this House will agree that the right to protest is a fundamental one in any democracy, and one which must be protected and facilitated. However, it is also a right that must be exercised peacefully and with respect for the rights of others. In this context, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Members of An Garda Síochána were enforcing the law of the land in what were very difficult circumstances.