Protesters and gardaí outside the Dáil in September. Rolling News
Drew Harris

Garda Commissioner agrees to 'review' policing of far-right protests, trade union says

It followed the the public service union’s criticism of “soft policing” by gardaí of protests at libraries, migrant centers and the Dáil.

SENIOR GARDAÍ HAVE signalled they’ll review their policing of far-right protests following a meeting with the country’s largest public service workers union.

Following a meeting with senior garda management, trade union Fórsa has claimed that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has “agreed to review the strategic guidance document on the policing of protests” by gardaí.

It followed the union’s criticism of “soft policing” by gardaí of protests at libraries, migrant centres and, more recently, outside the Dáil.

The meeting involved the union, LGBT Ireland, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, the Garda Commissioner and his Assistant Commissioner Paula Hilman, who has responsibility for roads policing and community engagement.

Fórsa sought the meeting to discuss the safety of local authority library members and the threat posed by the far-right.

Gardaí have come under pressure over the past year over policing of protests by far-right activists, with Justice Minister Helen McEntee repeatedly backing the approach taken by garda management. 

Either have yet to comment on Fórsa’s statement, but this indication of a change in strategy comes ahead of a fresh protest outside Leinster House next Tuesday.

Scenes in September drew criticism from many politicians after protesters blocked exits and shouted vitriolic abuse at a number of politicians, along with erecting a mock gallows outside the Dáil. 13 people were arrested following the incident.

At the time, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said justifiable concerns had arisen in light of the protest and other incidents.

According to Fórsa’s statement, they questioned the Garda Commissioner on “soft policing” of far-right protests amid “ongoing harassment of library workers” by what the union called far-right agitators.

Fórsa representative for local government and local services workers, Richy Carrothers, said that much of the union’s concerns expressed at both meetings is that the “soft policing” approach to far-right protests is “not working” and must be changed.

The union said in its statement: “Commissioner Harris acknowledged that the far-right activity emerging in recent years in Ireland is a more virulent form, which is being organised and tutored through the internet and is linked to international extremism.

“In reference to the suggestion of ‘soft policing’ being the official guidance on the policing of protest, the Commissioner advised that it is his intention that policing is active where there is harassment and intimidation, so that people are properly protected.”

Harris is to also “develop an action plan to be shared with the civil society representatives” for their feedback, Fórsa said in a statement published on their website today.

The union also said it had received a commitment from Assistant Commissioner Paula Hilman that she would issue “a communication to all members of An Garda Síochána providing guidance on the active policing of protests”.

Carrothers said he welcomed the engagement and the commitments given by both Harris and Hilman.

“Workers have been exposed to an unsafe workplace as these agitators freely move around libraries calling staff unimaginable slurs, all the while recording interactions and live streaming to social media,” Carrothers said.

He said this “intensified” over the summer months and had moved beyond being “a phenomenon contained to Cork city”, where the library protests originally took place and this activity cannot be tolerated,” he said.