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Extinction Rebellion: camped in Merrion Square for a week in October Leah Farrell/
Protest Camp

Extinction Rebellion: Parks chief was worried removal of Merrion Square camp would look 'aggressive'

The camp was set up by protesters during a week of demonstrations last month.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTESTERS WHO camped in Dublin’s Merrion Square last month were allowed to stay because gardaí and Dublin City Council believed that removing them would be seen as “unnecessary aggression”, new documents show.

Correspondence from Dublin City Council’s Parks and Landscape section, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also shows that the local authority aims to take measures to prevent the another encampment from being set up in the park in future.

The encampment was set up in secret by members of Extinction Rebellion in October, when it was used as a base for the group during a week of climate action protests across the capital.

The group was established last year by academics in the UK and has become one of the world’s biggest environmental movements, with branches in several countries across the world.

It is calling for governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new ‘citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice’. 

Around a dozen tents were set up in a small section of Merrion Square park, which was still accessible to the public while it was there, while toilets, food and information stalls and a stage for live performances were also set up on the street on Merrion Square South.

The group did not receive permission from the council – which manages Merrion Square – to set up the encampment, with bylaws prohibiting overnight stays at the park.

However, an email from the head of the council’s Parks and Landscape section Leslie Moore to Fianna Fáil TD Seán Haughey on 16 October shows that a decision was made to allow the group to remain over concerns about negative publicity.

“By the time that [Extinction Rebellion] had established their ‘camp’ in the park the only option to DCC would have been to forcibly remove the individuals and tents from the park,” Moore wrote.

In consultation with the gardaí it was decided not to forcibly evict the protestors which would have created a scene and publicity which could have been construed as unnecessary aggression against the protestors.

Moore also explained that the protesters had indicated that they would only remain in Merrion Square for a week and would deal with their own waste, as well as ensuring that no damage would be done to the park during their stay.

“There has been no damage or impact on the park as a result of the protestors and the Thursday lunchtime market proceeded as it does every week.”

He added that the council would ensure security is in place to prevent any similar encampment from being set up in the future and to avoid such a situation becoming “an annual event”.

Separate correspondence released under FOI also shows how Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan questioned the Parks and Landscape section’s decision.

In an email to assistant chief executive Richard Shakespeare on 11 October, Keegan expressed concerns about the encampment which he said were not mitigated by “the fact that the position taken by the parks management has been applauded in certain quarters”.

Said Keegan:

Unless it is the intention of the parks management to facilitate all protest groups who request access to free camping facilities in Merrion Square then the decision probably constitutes a breach of the ‘Local Government Code of Conduct for Employees’, which requires Council officials to act with impartiality at all times.

As previously reported by the Irish Times, Keegan also said he had launched an internal investigation into the encampment in a subsequent email to independent councillor Mannix Flynn.

He told Flynn that he was “extremely unhappy” with how the issue was handled and felt that allowing the encampment to be set up was a “clear breach” of the council’s by laws.

The group left the park on 20 October.

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