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'People lack hope': Labour calls for more nuanced approach towards anti-lockdown protests

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin says dismissing protesters as ‘cranks’ will not work.

If the government just shrugs their shoulders and suggests that everybody involved in the protest tomorrow is beyond hope, they're  making a very big mistake, said Ó Ríordáin.
If the government just shrugs their shoulders and suggests that everybody involved in the protest tomorrow is beyond hope, they're making a very big mistake, said Ó Ríordáin.
Image: The Labour Party

IF THE GOVERNMENT’S only response to protest “is a policing one or security one”, it will fail, Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said today as he called for a more “nuanced approach” to pandemic protests.

He told reporters that politicians need to listen to the concerns of the people “on the edges” of anti-lockdown protests “who lack hope”.

Gardaí are due to mount a massive operation to prevent planned anti-lockdown protests in Dublin tomorrow.

More than 2,500 gardaí will be deployed across checkpoints and arterial routes on St Patrick’s Day.

Speaking at Leinster House, Ó Ríordáin said his party would not encourage people to attend any protests, for any reason, during Level 5 restrictions.

“But we also think that the rhetoric from the Government has to be different. The far-right only ever achieve anything in any country when there is a vacuum.

And if people have no hope, or are not offered hope, or are only offered a return to normal when for many people normal was the problem, well then they are only going to grow.

“They are only going to get more support from people who are disaffected or fear there is no hope,” he said.

Deep frustration

He said that on the edges of marches and protests, there are plenty of people who attend that don’t necessarily buy in to everything the far-right groups are saying, but who are “deeply frustrated” because of the loss of their job. Or simply, they don’t have any sense of hope anymore.

If the government’s only response to a far-right protest is a policing one or security one, it will fail, said Ó Ríordáin.

Labour said it is appealing to government to acknowledge the problems that people are facing, such as the 57% youth unemployment rate. 

The Labour TD said the far-right groups organising such protests are well organised, well-funded and have an agenda.

“However, on the edges of that discussion will always be somebody who feels a lack of hope, and they [the far-right] will present themselves as being the only people who care. The only people who care about your business or your last job or the fact that you can’t find housing, or the economic inequality that you’re suffering. They’re the only people who care,” he said. 

He said the government needs to be “clever and compassionate” to people who feel drawn to protest.

If the government just shrugs their shoulders and “suggests that everybody involved in the protest tomorrow is beyond hope, beyond redemption, and totally in the net of the far right, well then you’re making a very big mistake,” he said.

“If nobody is speaking to your life, if nobody is understanding about how frustrated you are, if nobody is having some level of understanding as to why you’re frustrated, you want to be on the streets, if the only thing they hear is condemnation, well then, they’re not going to connect with that,” he said. 

“I’m asking for governments to be nuanced in their approach,” he told reporters. 

Labour has no patience for people who want to break the regulations, he said, but added that politicians can no longer ignore the vibrations of the far-right as just being a nuisance.

However, speaking today Minster Simon Harris said previous protests that turned violent were “an attack on our democracy and it was an attack on who we are as a people”.

He told reporters: “At the moment, any congregation in large numbers in breach of the public health guidelines, is a risk to our health and safety. We have to be consistent in relation to that.

“Things that are well meaning or things that people can feel strongly about could make people sick.”

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Guidelines 

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the protests planned for St Patrick’s Day have highlighted yet again the need for guidelines for people who want to protest in a peaceful and pandemic-safe manner.

ICCL’s Head of Legal and Policy, Doireann Ansbro, said during an emergency, the right to protest can be restricted but not banned entirely.

The group said the government has provided guidelines on the right to education, as well as on exercise and work via the Living With Covid plan. The right to freedom of assembly is as vital to our society and the public is entitled to know what kind of protests are safe at which levels. 

It added that protesters must always balance their rights with their responsibilities, and must remain peaceful in order to have the protection of the law. They urged all protesters tomorrow to protest in a peaceful and pandemic-safe manner.

“We would also encourage protesters to research the organisers of your event, who may have a different agenda to yours,” said the ICCL.

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