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Gardaí to change how they manage repossessions after Take Back the City incident

Drew Harris said gardaí will be “more assertive” from now on in the way they approach repossessions.

Image: Sean Murray/TheJournal.ie

THE GARDA COMMISSIONER has said the organisation will change how it deals with repossessions based on lessons learned after a Take Back the City occupation in Dublin last year. 

Speaking to the Oireachtas joint committee on justice and equality today, Drew Harris said gardaí will be more “assertive” in the way they approach these types of events going forward. 

The incident in September saw a group of  individuals working on behalf of the owner moving in to clear protesters out of the occupied building – which had previously been vacant – on North Frederick Street.

These individuals had their faces covered and there was criticism of the decision by members of the garda public order unit who attended to also cover their faces.

There were scuffles outside the property and a small number of activists were arrested and later released. 

In response to the criticism at the time, 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, he said the form of dress used at the event was “not correct” as it is policy that if it is deemed necessary to use the hood then it should be used in tandem with a protective helmet.

Under questioning by Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire today, Harris said he has now received a report he ordered into the incident and that changes have been sent to the Garda Inspectorate for examination. 

“We are building in the lessons learned in respect of how we deal with these situations where we have individuals – private individuals – who seek to repossess property after civil proceedings and there’s been a change in how we manage those operations,” he said.

In short, probably we’re far more assertive in terms of how they’re done, what time they’re done and make sure to minimise the risk of breach of the peace. 

Ó Laoghaire later asked Harris to clarify whether Harris meant they will be more assertive will those who are in occupation of the property or security personnel, who he said are “operating in a legally very grey and uncertain area”.

“What I mean is that we’re there and our responsibility is to preserve the peace and prevent crime so we’ll be assertive in making sure that the manner in which a repossession is conducted is one which is conducive to ensuring that the peace is preserved and that crimes do not happen,” Harris responded. 

Youth diversion programme

Harris also gave the committee an update on issues that have been identified with the organisation’s youth diversion programme. He revealed last month that almost 8,000 crimes by children and young people went unpunished due to failures in the scheme. 

There were 55 cases defined as very serious crimes like a rape, a sexual assault, one of child neglect and a threat to kill.

All children accused of a crime have to be referred to this scheme so their eligibility can be assessed.  If they are found to be ineligible for the programme, they are referred back to the original investigating garda who is then supposed to follow-up, with a charge or a summons for example.

In these almost 8,000 cases this did not happen. 

Today the commissioner said some 4,567 letters have been sent to victims to inform them they are impacted by this error and to provide them with support contacts. Gardaí have also conducted 47 personal visits in cases on the more serious end of the scale. 

Harris also said that it will be the task of divisional officers to decide on disciplinary action in relation to the more than 3,000 gardaí involved. 

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