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Commissioner says form of garda attire at North Frederick Street protest 'was not correct'

Leo Varadkar defended the actions of gardaí and the decision to cover their faces.

Updated Sep 13th 2018, 4:00 PM

THE GARDA COMMISSIONER has said the form of dress of gardaí at the housing protest at North Frederick Street earlier this week was “not correct”.

Drew Harris was responding to criticism of gardaí after they accompanied contractors hired by a landlord to a property that had been occupied by protesters. Members of the public order unit had their faces covered – a decision that has been the subject of controversy in recent days. 

In a statement this afternoon, the commissioner said An Garda Síochána respects the right of people to protest peacefully.

“An Garda Síochána’s role at such events is to facilitate lawful protest while protecting the rights of others to do their lawful work safely – in this case carrying out an order of the High Court,” he said.

Passing Out Ceremony, Garda College Templemore Drew Harris said An Garda Síochána respects the right of people to protest peacefully. Source: RollingNews.ie

“Our objective with any such operation is to ensure the safety of the public. Every year, An Garda Síochána polices a wide-range of lawful protests in this manner.

“In relation to this specific incident, whilst preserving peace and public order, a graduated response was taken in line with the prevailing circumstances.

At the start of this event, An Garda Síochána deployed three community policing officers to oversee the safe compliance of a High Court order. As the atmosphere at the event grew more tense, a small number of public order officers were deployed to ensure public safety.

Harris explained the use of a fire retardant hood by public order officers is a matter for the operational commander on the ground and it is designed to protect the safety of officers based on risk assessment.

However, the form of dress used at the event was not correct as it is policy that if it deemed necessary to use the hood then it should be used in tandem with a protective helmet. A directive has issued today from Deputy Commissioner, Policing and Security, to re-enforce this requirement to all personnel.

In addition, he said he as requested a report from the Assistant Commissioner for the Dublin Metropolitan Region to “see what lessons can be learned from the event”.

Harris said members of An Garda Síochána “showed restraint in the face of physical and verbal abuse from a very small minority” at the protest.  He also condemned racist abuse suffered by a garda working at the event.

“The people who had occupied the building left the building peacefully in accordance with the High Court order,” he said.

“Subsequent to this, a small crowd failed to leave the area despite repeated warnings from An Garda Síochána under the Public Order Act and five people were arrested.”

‘Protesters must be non-violent’

Earlier today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he did not like the image of contractors in balaclavas at the housing occupation at North Frederick Street this week – but he defended the actions of gardaí.

Speaking at the launch of the Land Development Agency today, Leo Varadkar said he will “always defend the right of people to protest”.

“That’s fundamental in a democracy, but with the right to protest, of course, comes responsibility. Protesters must be non-violent and must always act within the law and in this case there was a High Court order to vacate the particular premises involved. And it’s the job of the gardaí to enforce the law, we should always support the gardaí when they enforce the law,” he said.

I think, like a lot of people, I didn’t like to see a private security firm in balaclavas, I don’t think that’s the kind of image that anybody wants to see on their TV screens.

It is understood that the men in balaclavas who weren’t gardaí were hired as private contractors by the landlords and did not work for a security firm.

It is also understood that the absence of a registration plate on the van they used was a security measure to ensure that identifying factors were not present on the vehicle. 

Hundreds of people staged a sit-down protest in Dublin’s city centre yesterday evening and there were criticisms of the decision by gardaí to accompany the private contractors to the building and to cover their own faces.

Although the Taoiseach raised concern about the fact that the contractors were wearing balaclavas, he defended the decision of members of the garda public order unit to cover their faces.

“However, when a comes to the gardaí, we’ve checked this, they’re wearing hoods, in some cases, ski masks in the other,” he said.

“They wear hoods in case there’s a risk of fire or something being thrown at them and they wear the ski masks in some cases to protect their identities but in all cases they had their badges and those badges were visible.”

- With reporting by Christina Finn.  

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