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Call for new laws as group that protested at Tánaiste's home pledges to target every politician

Both the Tánaiste and Minister for Health were targeted at their homes in recent weeks.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's home was targeted at the weekend.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's home was targeted at the weekend.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THERE HAVE BEEN calls for measures to tackle protests at the homes of politicians following recent demonstrations outside the homes of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

One TD said that the events were ‘intimidation’ rather than legitimate protests, and needed either existing laws or new legislation to stop them from happening. 

Anti-vaccination campaigners protested outside Minister Donnelly’s home on two separate occasions on 10 and 12 September. The same group gathered outside the Tánaiste’s home in Dublin at the weekend. Gardaí were present at both protests.

Individuals who organised and attended the protests have pledged to continue with these types of demonstrations on a weekly basis and threatened to prevent politicians from leaving their homes.

At a demonstration earlier this month one of the campaigners involved in the protests said: “Each and every politician is getting a visit from us and our conditions are if you don’t answer our questions that we’re here giving you today, we want your resignation or you’re not leaving your house, simple as that”.

He said this would happen “at least once a week” and that senior gardaí would also be targeted.

Social Democrats co-leader and spokesperson on justice Catherine Murphy has said the government should look at whether there are pieces of legislation that can be applied to these incidents. If it can not, then new measures should be considered to make private homes “out of bounds” for protests, she said.

“I believe in the power of protest and the right to protest in a democracy,” she told The Journal. “But I think when somebody’s family home is targeted and there are people living in that home who are not public representatives who are equally targeted it is unacceptable. That isn’t a protest, it’s intimidation and I think we need to separate these things.”

While both demonstrations were focused on anti-vaccination messages,  video footage from the protest outside Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s home also featured homophobic insults.

The incident has been widely criticised by both government and opposition parties.

Murphy said the issue is not dissimilar to calls for safe access zones at healthcare facilities providing abortion services. The minister for health has recently committed to prioritising legislation on this issue to ban protests in the areas surrounding a healthcare facility.

“This is something very different to what we’ve been used to in terms of protests and it’s really regrettable that there are people here who can’t be appealed to,” Murphy said. “There are plenty of other opportunities to protest.”

Fine Gal councillor Danny Byrne has also called for new legislation to deal with protest at the homes of public figures. 

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“While people sign up for politics, nobody signs up for this type of protest at their family home,” he said. “This is most unfair on the person themselves, their partners and family and indeed their neighbours.”

He added that these types of protests “appear to be growing  more nasty and vitriolic”. 

“Some might cite our Constitutional right to protest, however I am quite sure this type of protest was never envisaged,” he said. “The law needs to change to stop this.”

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson Martin Kenny, who has condemned the actions of the campaigners, said he believed “a lot of this anger is being whipped up by a small number of social media accounts”. 

“The trouble makers behind these accounts build an atmosphere of fear and hatred and the end result is protests at the home of public officials and politicians like those we have seen over the past few weeks,” he said.

“Garda resources are also being diverted to police these protests because of the level of fear, intimidation and threat some demonstrators are using.

“People have the right to protest, but taking that protest to the homes of private citizens is an affront to the democracy we have in Ireland.”

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