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Gardaí 'won't sanction' climate change protest by secondary students in Dublin tomorrow

Gardaí warned the students that the potential for crowd trouble could lead open to “criminal proceedings” against those with a duty of care.

Students went on the first of several strikes last March.
Students went on the first of several strikes last March.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Feb 6th 2020, 3:31 PM

AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA has confirmed it won’t sanction a climate action protest by secondary school students in Dublin city tomorrow. 

Students earlier said they plan to go ahead with tomorrow’s protest despite being told by gardaí that its members wouldn’t facilitate the event. 

The students had sought support from gardaí for the event this week on the eve of the election, following on from a series of protests held by second-level students around the country in recent months. 

Gardaí told organisers that they wouldn’t support the event, citing the behaviour of some students at previous protests, the lack of adult supervision and the “highly dangerous” route planned. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, An Garda Síochána said: “An Garda Síochána respects the right for anyone to exercise their right to protest and facilitates such protests as long as they do not create a public hazard or a health and safety risk.
 
“In the last few weeks alone, An Garda Síochána has facilitated large-scale protests by different groups in the city centre.
 
“In relation to this specific request, An Garda Síochána liaised with the group in question and An Garda Síochána has not refused the group from protesting. Instead, An Garda Síochána has declined to sanction the protest as currently planned from a health and safety perspective.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has today written to An Garda Síochána and “urged gardaí to facilitate the protest”, saying that the students should be able to exercise their “right to peaceful protest, their right to freedom of expression, and their right to political participation”.

Former President Mary Robinson, meanwhile, released a video supporting the school students saying “you’re never too young to protest…the right of freedom of expression is a right at any stage”. 

FridaysForFuture is a movement inspired by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg after she began protesting her government’s lack of action on the climate crisis.

Her actions have sparked similar movements worldwide with Irish students holding protests on numerous occasions in the past 12 months, urging the government to do more to tackle climate change.

Fifth-year student Beth Doherty wrote to gardaí in Pearse Street last week notifying them of plans for FridaysForFuture rally in Dublin to be held tomorrow, Friday 7 February. 

The march route would see the young demonstrators gather near Grafton Street, march down Nassau Street and onto Kildare Street to Leinster House. 

Doherty said around 1,000-2,000 people were expected and that stewards would be provided, adding that a small stage would be erected outside Leinster House with an accompanying sound system. 

Gardaí response

In response – which has been seen by TheJournal.ie – a garda in the events unit at Pearse Street said that “following on from previous protests the location of your planned meeting point is not suitable and unable to facilitate the 1000-2000 participants”.

The garda said the street cannot take the capacity along with the level of footfall in the area at lunchtime and “will cause crushing in the area”. 

“The planned route is highly dangerous and is not recommended,” he said.

He also pointed to a lack of supervision of both primary and secondary school students at previous protests, which led to the climbing of scaffolding towers, the climbing of Luas power cable poles and walking in front of buses.

“When teachers were asked to stop the kids from doing this gardaí where informed that they had their own minds and they couldn’t do anything to stop this,” the garda said. 

The garda also claimed that supervisors at the last protest allowed the students to be “infiltrated by an outside organisation which could have had serious consequences had the gardaí not intervened”. Doherty told TheJournal.ie that she had not heard of this “outside organisation” at previous protests.

The garda concluded that the protest “cannot be facilitated” by An Garda Síochána. 

Back and forth

Doherty wrote back to ask if there were amendments that could be made to the route that could make the planned demonstration safer. “Would there be specific changes we could make to address these concerns?

As the strike will be going ahead on Friday, we want to have the best working relationship possible with An Garda Síochána before and during the strike to ensure health and safety. 

She said that as theirs was a “student-led movement”, supervision of students couldn’t be guaranteed outside of school.

They were, however, “exercising their right to protest, peaceful assembly and political involvement”. 

The garda replied: “Since the no supervision can be guaranteed and given the age profile and issues that have occurred previously An Garda Síochána cannot support this event.

Anybody taking students out of school has a duty of care and responsibility for the students, any one bringing the students to an unsuitable area to gather and creates a situation similar to the crushing scenes that happened at previous marches leave themselves open to criminal proceedings.

Doherty reiterated in a follow-up email that the event would still be going ahead tomorrow, and asked if the strike could legally go ahead “under the right to peaceful protest and assembly”. 

She told TheJournal.ie today that she had organised the previous school strikes held for climate change demonstrations in the past and hasn’t encountered opposition to holding these protests from the gardaí before.

“We tried really hard to work with them,” she said. “We want to find solutions to address concerns, we want garda support.”

Doherty said that she couldn’t recall instances of the kinds of behaviour cited by the gardáí. “I can’t think of a group strike that caused trouble,” she said.

The fifth-year student added that the national strike is still set to go ahead tomorrow in areas such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the demonstration must be allowed to go ahead.

“Children have the right to protest and must be facilitated in the exercise of this right,” it said.

The gardaí have a duty to facilitate the right to protest and with many protest groups do an excellent job, for example during the farmers protest last month. However, ICCL has previously noted a trend where the Gardaí treat protest groups differently on an arbitrary basis and this needs to stop.   
ICCL urges the Gardaí to facilitate the climate school strikers to allow them to exercise their right to peaceful protest, their right to freedom of expression, and their right to political participation.

“This generation owes a huge debt to the next one and the least we can do is listen to what they have to say.”

This afternoon, a garda spokesperson told TheJournal.ie: “An Garda Síochána have made a number of appropriate route suggestions to the organisers in an effort to safely facilitate the protest in the interests of public safety and all involved in tomorrow’s proposed protest. Communications are on-going.”

With reporting by Cónal Thomas 

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Sean Murray

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