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Call for lockdown protest guidelines after violence at Dublin demonstration

A group says the guidelines could address issues including the size of demonstrations and wearing face coverings.

Image: Sam Boal

A CIVIL LIBERTIES campaign group is calling on Justice Minister Helen McEntee to introduce guidelines for protesting safely while Covid-19 restrictions are in place following violent scenes at an anti-lockdown demonstration in Dublin on Saturday.

In a letter to the Minister for Justice, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) says that protesting guidelines are now “urgently needed” to protect both the public and the gardaí.

It says the guidelines could address issues including the size of demonstrations, wearing face coverings and social distancing and avoiding contact with other members of the public during protests.

The ICCL says that the right to protest does not include a right to commit violent acts. However, peaceful protesters who attend demonstrations which become violent still have a right to protest, so long as they themselves remain peaceful.

The group added that it condemns all use of violence at protests.

“Saturday’s events have shown exactly why guidelines for safe and legal protest are needed,” ICCL’s Head of Legal and Policy Doireann Ansbro said.

They could advise on the size of protests, social distancing and face coverings. This would protect people who wish to protest peacefully and safely, and it may also protect gardaí from those who intend to do neither.

Saturday’s protest spiralled into violence after fireworks were shot at gardaí on Grafton Street. Three members of the force were injured and more than 20 people were arrested.

The ICCL said the “minority” of people who have not accepted that restrictions are neccessary to stop the spread of Covid-19 have a right to “express their views within the law.”

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It added that currently the law appears to ban all protests. It said safe protest should be considered a legitimate excuse to leave home during lockdowns. 

“At the very heart of democracy is the right to voice concerns, alternative views and dissent,” the ICCL said in a statement.

“This right takes on an even more fundamental importance when we consider the significant impact of public health restrictions on lives and livelihoods across Ireland. Guidelines must be produced immediately,” it added.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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