The Gardai & “Facilitating Protest”


About 250 people took part in the Eirígí-organised march on the banquet for the British Queen staged in Dublin castle on May 18th last. WSM members joined the demonstration but Gardai intercepted the person transporting our flags and banner to the protest, leaving us somewhat invisible. This was part of a pattern of suppression of visible protest that occurred throughout the visit of the British Queen, despite Garda claims that they would “facilitate protest” in advance of the visit. It turns out the unnamed Garda source quoted by the Irish Examiner in advance of the visit, who claimed “reasonable protest will be allowed - a peaceful protest - but up to a point”, had about as much value as unnamed Garda sources making vague statements ever do. This was despite Eirígí making major efforts to ensure their protests remained peaceful. Before the march, at least two of the speakers stated that anyone not willing to be peaceful should leave the demonstration. Stewards removed a couple of people they judged to have become too rowdy.

However, far from facilitating such peaceful protest, the reality was that Gardai tore down posters, removed stickers, confiscated banners, flags and leaflets at every opportunity, before and during the royal visit. Apart from the WSM losing a banner and four flags, Eirígí lost two banners and a stack of posters on the same day in the ongoing campaign of Garda intimidation.  One of the confiscated Eirígí banners that the Gardai deemed offensive actually read: “Fund Communities not Royal Visits.”  Activists challenged Gardai ripping down posters in the Marrowbone Lane area of the city by not only producing the Dublin City Council permission but also actually getting a council official to come down from the nearby office and tell the Garda they were permitted, but without success.

On the evening of the Eirigi protest, a WSM photographer was ordered not to take pictures by the leader of group of helmet-equipped Garda descending from a bus at the side of the demonstration. Earlier in the week Gardai had been videoed violently knocking local women to the ground in Summerhill in Dublin 1 before arresting them, apparently simply for verbally protesting the level of force they were using in arresting protesters they had chased into the area.  Elsewhere, Gardai told a woman who hung a protest banner from her flat in Dublin South West that they would kick her door in if she did not remove it.

Virtually no civil rights voices dared protest the repressive policing operation, and the Garda operation on May 18th included, we think for the first time, the importation of the controversial “kettling” tactic from the London police, whereby a section of a crowd is surrounded by police and not allowed leave for hours. A second smaller demonstration organised by the 32 Country Sovereignty Movement in the same area was “kettled” after some fireworks were let off.  Media reports indicated that Garda also drew batons and there were at least eight arrests.  However the eight were subsequently released without charge despite being held overnight.

One would expect the liberal end of the legal establishment to not only protest such abuse of police powers but to actively send legal observers to demonstrations where such abuse is likely. In Ireland this almost never happens, allowing Gardai to operate with considerable impunity. The confidence shown by Gardai in abusing their powers over the period of the royal visit suggests they have been assured by their superiors that they need not fear repercussions provided they don’t go ‘too far’, a pattern familiar to those living in Rossport in Mayo in recent years.

Read more on the visit of the British Queen or on policing abuses in Ireland

This article is from Workers Solidarity 122 July 2011
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