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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin
Twitter Storm

SF's Eoin Ó Broin and Garda rep have 'very positive' conversation following controversial tweet

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin shared the tweet with the caption “no words needed”.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 3rd 2023, 8:32 PM

SINN FÉIN TD Eoin Ó Broin has had a “very positive” conversation with a Garda representative after he was criticised over sharing an image which depicted gardaí edited into a famine-era eviction scene.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said Ó Broin should have made clear he was criticising the Government when he shared an image on Twitter which depicted gardaí edited into a famine-era eviction scene.

Ó Broin, his party’s spokesperson for housing, shared the tweet with the caption “no words needed”, shortly after a protest in Dublin over the expiration of the eviction ban at midnight on Friday.

The image, created by Dublin artist Mála Spíosraí, is a rendering of the Famine-era Eviction Scene painting by Daniel MacDonald except the officers in the 1850s image are replaced by present day gardaí.  

The hooded gardaí that were inserted in the image are taken from images of a 2018 incident in which housing activists that had occupied a building in Dublin’s North Frederick Street were removed from the building by a private security group.

Gardaí were also present at that 2018 incident and the decision by the gardaí to cover their faces was criticised, with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris describing it as “not correct”. 

Over the weekend, the tweet was criticised by the justice minister as well as the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), Antoinette Cunningham, who called it “deeply offensive”.

This afternoon, speaking in Galway, Cunningham said she had spoken to O’Broin who apologised for the offence caused by the tweet. 

Cunningham said that Ó Broin has “since clarified that the tweet was intended as a criticism of Government policy and not An Garda Síochána”.

She said that she believed that the Sinn Féin housing spokesperson’s phone call was “sincere”. 

“This afternoon I received a phone call from deputy O’Broin and he was very clear that he didn’t mean to offend, criticise, or indeed drag An Garda Síochána into any political controversy.

“We appreciated that clarity from him and we will inform our delegates of that because this tweet did set out to cause upset to the membership and quite controversial and I suppose setting An Garda Síochána against society generally is not helpful to the job that we do,” she said. 

In a tweet this afternoon, Ó Broin said he has had a “very positive” phone conversation with Cunningham. 

“I stressed it was not my intention to offend, criticise or drag An Garda Síochána into a political controversy,” he said. 

“My intention was solely to highlight the issue of homelessness/evictions and criticise Govt policy.” 

Cunningham also tweeted that there had been “important and welcome clarity” from Ó Broin this afternoon, which she will communicate to AGSI members tomorrow.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly defended Ó Broin and said that her party “fully appreciate and respect” the work that members of An Garda Síochána undertake.

“We fully appreciate and respect the work that members of An Garda Síochána have to do and they do so in very challenging circumstances because of historic underfunding.

“We know that there is a crisis of recruitment and retention within An Garda Síochána.”

Garda guidance 

AGSI is holding its annual conference in Galway today.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Cunningham said that in a speech, AGSI president will call on the Garda Commissioner to “issue new, clear and updated guidelines for members who may be asked to attend at evictions so that we’re all very clear in our role”. 

“The legislation currently is around a breach of the peace and to prevent a breach of the peace from occurring and that’s the role we currently have,” she said.

Cian Ó Concubhair, Maynooth University assistant professor in criminal justice, said he has a lot of sympathy for gardaí as evictions are civil matters and, where conflict arises, the law is weighted towards upholding property rights. 

He added that as law favours property rights in disputes over tenancies, gardaí may “instinctively favour” property owners where there is a court-ordered eviction notice.

Ó Concubhair said gardaí are “concerned about the political consequences about being involved in enforcing evictions” where they are called upon to attend the scene.

“I have a degree of sympathy with the gardaí because there could be violence and if they don’t intervene they can be criticised for not intervening and stopping public order violations, on one or the other side,” said Ó Concubhair, who is working on research funded by Irish Council for Civil Liberties examining the policing of housing activists.

“The anxiety I would have is that because the law favours property owners that generally if they do get involved, it’s going to be on the side of those seeking to uphold the property owner’s rights rather than protecting any potential rights that might be violated against the occupiers.”

The president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) stressed to The Journal that guards are have little role in evictions as he maintained “it’s not a policing matter”.

Speaking before the controversy over Ó Broin’s tweet, Brendan O’Connor said he that no guidance had been issued to members and he had found there had been “no chat in the organisation” around whether evictions will become an issue.

“Sometimes we will be called by either party where a court order is to be enforced, to be present just to maintain order, but there’s certainly no role in it for the guards,” O’Connor said.

“It’s not something the members are raising.”

Minister for Justice Simon Harris has said that the sharing of the artwork “cut deep” with the force.

“It’s clear that Deputy O Broin’s comments cut deep with many Gardai across the country,” he told the media before addressing the conference.

“I think it’s been extraordinarily regrettable that he would endeavour to drag the men and women of An Garda Siochana into political debate,” the minister said.

“We don’t do that in this country. We have a police force – the Gardai – who have policed with consent and with community support for a century I think the image shared is an awful attempt to try and compare the Gardai to perhaps some sort of colonial force of the past. So, I welcome the fact that he has shown remorse, but we’ve seen what he’s done in one year in opposition.

“Last summer, he was going to sack a civil servant who didn’t agree with him and then, of course, he apologised. And now this spring, he’s dragging the Gardai into political debate.

“It’s easy to send out a tweet, it’s quite a different thing to put yourself in harm’s way.”

With reporting by Eoghan Dalton

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