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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 25 September, 2018
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'The Public Order Unit's protective hoods are not fashion accessories, but safety requirements in certain circumstances'

The events on North Frederick Street show how important a presence the unit can be in certain situations, the GRA’s John O’Keeffe writes.

John O'Keeffe Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association

THE EVENTS THAT took place on North Frederick Street are evidence, if any were needed, that often our members are the last and perhaps only line between potential chaos and order.

There has been much confusion with regard to the role of the Public Order Unit, who attended at this court-ordered eviction earlier this week.

At the outset, it is important to note that the frontline are under potential threat of attack every time they wear their uniform. Currently, they have only an extendable baton and pepper spray to defend themselves.

Therefore, from time to time, An Garda Síochána will receive information as to when they may need to engage gardaí with specialist training.

Certain members of the Public Order Unit were thus deployed in North Frederick Street on Tuesday evening. As it transpired, while the eviction itself was peaceful, five persons were subsequently arrested for public order offences.

Gardaí were subjected to both physical and verbal abuse and one frontline officer also suffered horrendous racial abuse.

Threats 

The primary role of the Public Order Unit is to deter and on occasion, repel any violence. Their uniform is designed to protect the wearer and to act as an optical deterrence to such violence. On the vast majority of occasions, this will be successful.

However, when violence does occur, either towards members of the public or the gardaí themselves, this unit has specialist training to deal with such criminal acts over and above the training of frontline uniformed gardaí.

The flame retardant hood may also be worn by the Public Order Unit, for their own safety.

In a time when horrific acid attacks are becoming more prevalent, it also offers some protection from sprays or gases, or other noxious substance that may be used against our members in this unit.

Quite rightly, all our members are identifiable with their registration numbers on their
shoulders or their jackets. The hoods hide no Garda’s identity.

Commissioner Drew Harris has rightly stated that the hood should be worn at all times with a protective helmet and a directive to this effect has now been issued.

While the wearing of protective hoods, without helmets, was operationally incorrect, these hoods would doubtless be equally, if not more visually repugnant to certain protestors, when worn with a helmet.

One thing should be made clear. These protective hoods worn by the Public Order Unit are not fashion accessories but safety requirements in certain circumstances.

No threat whatsoever emanates from this ordinary group of men and women. Indeed the idea that members of the Public Order Unit are somehow agent provocateurs, is a truly worn narrative that has zero basis in fact.

They are against nothing except breaches of the law. As ever, the only threat comes from those who seek to breach the peace – not those who protect it.

Frontline members of An Garda Síochána have one job and one job only – to serve the public and protect the peace. They are not present to agree or disagree with protestors on whatever issue may be the subject of any given protest.

Right to protest 

Everyone has a right to peaceful protest, whatever their political or other opinion, and our members cherish this right as much as any citizen of our country. What they are employed to do however is to ensure that no violence occurs during such lawful protests.

All our frontline do an incredible job protecting the general public. The Public Order Unit should be especially commended for the typical restraint they always exhibit and indeed showed in the face of provocation in North Great Frederick Street.

The events that transpired on Tuesday night, show how important a presence they can be in certain situations. The GRA thanks them and all our frontline for their professional service in this regard – as we know, do the vast majority of the general public they serve.

John O’Keeffe is Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association and Editor, Garda Review.

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About the author:

John O'Keeffe  / Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association

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