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Protest concerns raised by civil liberties body after reports of Direct Provision residents being targeted

There is a “pattern of intimidation and harassment” of protesters by gardaí, ICCL has said.

Housing protesters on Dublin's O'Connell Street in May.
Housing protesters on Dublin's O'Connell Street in May.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE IRISH COUNCIL for Civil Liberties has called for better gardaí training in dealing with protesters in a report launched today. 

During a three-day consultation with activists and protesters last week in Cork, Ennis and Dublin, ICCL identified a number of issues that it argues must be addressed.

These include a “severe misuse” of the public order act by gardaí in the form of arrests without charge, harassment of protesters and gardaí imposing limits on where people can protest.

ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said today that, although the right to protest is protected in Irish law, there is a “fundamental misunderstanding” by individual gardaí of protester rights in Ireland as well as a “pattern of intimidation and harassment” by the force.

This – combined with unfair legal determinations and the victimisation of older protesters like anti-war activists in Shannon, Co Clare – has led to “protest fatigue” among protesters in Ireland.

Between 18 and 21 June, ICCL has said it spoke with protesters, housing activists, people living in Direct Provision centres around Ireland as well An Garda Síochána and representative bodies. 

In one instance reported by ICCL, a housing activist was strip-searched by gardaí, Herrick said at this morning’s report launch. (An Gardaí Síochána has been contacted for comment following this claim).

‘Heavy-handed’

Speaking to people seeking international protection living in Direct Provision centres around Ireland, ICCL reports that some fear retribution by centre staff if they protest. 

In April, residents living in Mosney Direct Provision centre in Co Meath held a protest over the treatment of fellow residents by staff and management at the centre.

In some instances, ICCL reports that food has been withheld from Direct Provision residents and that some residents have been told that immigration services will look less favourably on their asylum applications if they protest. 

ICCL has made a number of recommendations in its report which include An Garda Síochána adopting a human rights-based approach to protest through effective training, clear access to garda policy on protest as well as improved gardaí record-keeping of protests. 

The group has also called for greater clarity around the right to protest being exercised in private spaces as well as the use of private security during evictions, arguing that firms should be accountable when dealing with protesters. 

In May, members of the gardaí assisted private security to evict housing activists from a building on Dublin’s North Frederick Street. 

Later today, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will launch the Policing Forum’s review of Public Order Policing in Ireland which includes a report on the eviction.

The Authority has said today that, although there are number of positive aspects of public order policing by gardaí, there has been “limited progress” in implementing the recommendations from the internal Garda reviews of the incidents at An Cosán in Tallaght in 2014 and North Frederick Street earlier this year. 

Following today’s report launch, ICCL’s Herrick has said: “The salient point for us has been that, while the government and An Garda Síochána are supportive of large protests taking place on the main thoroughfares of Ireland, when it comes to protesters living on the margins of society or protesting outside of the media spotlight, the garda and state response can be much more heavy-handed”.

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