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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 18 October, 2019
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'This has gone on for too long': Gardaí and Dublin City Council in dispute over policing of Google protests

Internal correspondence shows how gardaí and DCC disagreed over the management of the protests.

Demonstrators support Gemma O’Doherty’s protest against Google last month
Demonstrators support Gemma O’Doherty’s protest against Google last month
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

GARDAÍ AND DUBLIN City Council wrangled over how to monitor protests headed by Gemma O’Doherty outside Google’s offices in Dublin last month, new records show.

Internal correspondence seen by TheJournal.ie shows how a garda inspector suggested that the local authority’s busking enforcement unit should police the demonstrations.

The issue arose after both gardaí and the council received a number of noise complaints about the protests, with emails between the two showing initial confusion as to how they should be dealt with.

The emails were among a volume of correspondence sent to the local authority regarding the demonstrations, which included complaints from a diverse range of people, such as councillors, residents and local businesses.

The protests were staged outside Google’s offices on Barrow Street in Dublin, and were initially organised after O’Doherty was suspended from YouTube for violating its policies on hate speech and harassment.

They took place daily for a number of weeks, and saw protesters march outside the building and use loudspeakers to chant and shout at passers-by and Google employees.

Several counter protests also took place at Barrow Street under the banner ‘Speakers Unicorner’, whose members also chanted and used megaphones.

On 13 August, gardaí issued a warning to the protesters, reading out the Public Order Act. It’s understood that protesters were asked to desist from playing loud music, beating drums and using an amplifier.

Affect on local residents

Internal council correspondence now shows the extent of local disruption that the demonstrations caused.

In a series of emails to council management in late July, Green Party councillor Claire Byrne relayed complaints from residents in Barrow Street and South Dock relating to “an individual with a loud amplified speaker and megaphone outside Google HQ”.

Byrne said that while she fully supported the right to peaceful protest, she did not consider the demonstrations peaceful because they were causing so much disturbance.

In one email, she said:

One [resident] told me she approached [protesters] to ask them to be quiet and she was met with abuse. She also said that the protest has gone on until after 10pm which is after the cut off point.
The residents can’t even open their windows in this heat due to the noise, and it’s keeping kids awake. I have also been contacted by taxi drivers as there is disruption to the rank there.

In another email, a Dublin City Council area manager told other staff about problems raised by Fine Gael councillor Danny Byrne, who he said was “adamant” that the council should meet with gardaí to discuss the demonstrations.

“He says that he has constituents trying to study for exams and cannot do so because of the racket in Barrow Street,” the email read.

gemma-doherty-google-protest Staff and security look on as supporters of Gemma O'Doherty protest outside Google HQ on Barrow Street Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

In late July, a business owner contacted the council to complain about the disruption that the protests had been causing her for three weeks.

“We are trying to conduct our business as best we can but in the afternoon we have been subject to this noise pollution,” she said in one email.

However, the council responded by saying that it was unable to deal with the issue, as the matter was a legal one. It told the woman to contact her local garda station instead.

“I have checked with our environmental health section in relation to noise pollution, who tell me that the use of a PA is classed as a public order offence and needs to be dealt with by An Garda Síochána,” a council staff member wrote.

But despite the woman replying to say that she had already contacted gardaí, the council said it was still attempting to clarify matters before it could deal with it.

Correspondence from the woman to the council in mid-August shows how the issue had still not been resolved weeks later. It read:

We would really like to see an end to this protesting and have use of the footpath once again. This matter has really gone on for far too long.” 

Street performance bye laws

Further correspondence also details the extent of confusion between gardaí and the council on how to deal with the noise from protesters and disagreements about who was responsible for policing it.

In August, gardaí in Irishtown wrote to the council to suggest that the local authority could use street performance bye-laws to deal with the ongoing noise issue at the protests.

Gardaí said that demonstrators were using a microphone accompanied by a speaker to enhance the volume of their “vocal expressions” and were playing recorded music, using musical instruments and singing.

The email continued:

The Garda Síochána is to enquire as to whether the Street Performers Bye-Laws 2016… have been considered by Dublin City Council in respect of this ongoing issue and whether the Google protesters/demonstrators are acting in a performing role for the purpose of the 2016 Bye-Laws.
In this regard, I am to inform you that a counter protester has alleged to the Garda Síochána that these protesters are performing on the street without a licence.

But a response from a council staff member said that the local authority believed its street performance bye laws, introduced in 2016 to regulate busking, did not apply because the protest was not a performance.

The council said that a street performer was defined as anyone who engaged in “performance or exhibition in a public place…with the reasonable expectation or opportunity of receiving donations”.

Instead, the council suggested that the matter should be dealt with under Section 5 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, alleging that the protests could be described as “offensive conduct”.

“[It is] an offence for anyone in a public place to engage in offensive conduct: between the hours of 12 o’clock midnight and 7 o’clock in the morning next following; or at any time, after having been request by a member of An Garda Síochána to desist,” they said.

The council subsequently agreed to monitor noise levels at subsequent protests during a meeting of councillors, staff and gardaí a number of days later.

90340717_90340717 Gemma O'Doherty (file photo) Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Protests dwindled

O’Doherty has been a controversial figure on social media in recent years, and regularly issues posts criticising Ireland’s media, political parties and immigration policies.

She attempted to run in last year’s presidential election, but was unable to secure enough nominations from local councils to get on the ballot.

She also ran for the European elections this year in the Dublin constituency, where she secured 6,659 first preference votes, finishing 12th out of 19 candidates.

She frequently broadcast on YouTube – which is owned by Google  before being banned after posting a video criticising ethnic minorities in Ireland. 

The first sanction prevented her from uploading new content for seven days, and the offending video was removed.

She continued to post on the site under another username, contravening YouTube’s terms and conditions, leading it to ban her outright from posting any content on the platform and the subsequent protest on Barrow Street.

However, the protests have dwindled in recent weeks and O’Doherty has not returned to the platform.

By the time of publication, gardaí did not respond to a request for comment when asked whether the council or the force were responsible for dealing with noise complaints involving megaphones and amplifiers at demonstrations.

With reporting from Ken Foxe and Daragh Brophy.

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