Extract from the Dail, Thursday 3rd April 2003
- garda assault on peaceful protest

Mr. Costello: I wish to share a minute of time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Costello: I thank the Minister for coming into the house in person for the debate. Last night I was present at the debate in the Dáil chamber on humanitarian aid for Iraq. When it ended at 8.30 p.m. I left the chamber and switched on my mobile phone. I immediately received a call from a member of the Labour Party who was participating with a number of other party members in the anti-war protest outside the gates of Leinster House.
The background noise was deafening as he informed me that the riot squad had arrived and was arresting people and dragging them away. He said that the situation was ugly and asked if I could come out to the Kildare Street entrance to the Dáil to try and help.
I went outside and witnessed large numbers of uniformed gardaí linked together, separating and cordoning-off the protesters into two groups. One group was on the lower side of Kildare Street outside the gates of Leinster House and on part of the road and footpath on Molesworth Street. The
other group was positioned on the upper side of Kildare Street and Molesworth Street on the Buswell's Hotel side. A corridor had been created between the two groups and a large number of members of the public order squad was positioned along various parts of this corridor. I saw them moving through the uniformed gardaí, lifting and dragging protesters out of the crowd and taking them down Kildare Street.
I spoke to a number of people in the protest - men and women, young and old - including the person who had telephoned me. Without exception, they stated that they had been engaged in a peaceful protest and that the arrival of the public order squad in riot gear had been provocative and that these had acted in a heavy-handed manner.
I approached the officer in charge and asked if he would withdraw the public order squad as the situation appeared to be volatile. I further pointed out that most of the members of the public order squad appeared not to be wearing their identification numbers. On being questioned, the officer informed me that they were wearing overalls but did not explain why they were not wearing their identification numbers. When interviewed on RTE at lunchtime today - the Minister's reply to the same question was exceedingly lame. He said: "the riot gear doesn't make provision for numbers at the moment. It takes some time to do it." He also said that he was having discussions with the Garda on the matter. This is not good enough.
After the Reclaim the Streets march last May and the unacceptable behaviour of some gardaí who were not wearing any identification numbers, some of whom are now before the courts, surely the word should have gone out from the Minister's office that all units of the Garda should display their identification numbers when engaged in public order duty in future?
The public representatives present and the organisers of the protest last night suggested to the officer in charge that the public order squad should withdraw and the protesters would move into Molesworth Street and be addressed by their leaders. When this was done, good order was restored immediately.
There is grave concern among the public about what is happening in Iraq. Every citizen in this country is entitled to assemble and protest peacefully. When they do so, in the large numbers in which they are at present, against this unnecessary, illegal and unjust war, their views should be treated with respect by the forces of law and order.
The line was crossed last night. I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to order an inquiry into the manner in which the Garda handled a peaceful protest outside Leinster House last night, to determine whether the Garda response was appropriate, to investigate the fact that none of the public order squad wore ID numbers and to state what measures are being taken to ensure that all members of the Garda Síochána wear appropriate ID when dealing with public order in future.
It is ironic that, as crime figures published today show that we are now dealing with a spiralling crime rate with some 300 offences every day, that so many gardaí could be found to deal with a peaceful protest last night.

Mr. J. Higgins: I thank Deputy Costello for sharing his time. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should have come into the House this afternoon to answer specific and supplementary questions on the outrageous conduct of the Garda - who are answerable to him - against a peaceful anti-war protest last night. Of course, the Government hoped a full-scale riot would be provoked so that the anti-war movement could be discredited, so they could portray the anti-war organisations as violent rabble and frighten away the tens of thousands of ordinary people who have been on the streets in recent months protesting against the Government's policy of collusion with the atrocities that are happening in Iraq. The Government does not like to be exposed and it is hugely exposed on this issue. To the credit of all those at this peaceful protest the response was utterly disciplined.
Let us bring back centre stage the reasons for the anti-war protests which is the atrocities we witness on a daily basis-----

Acting Chairman: The Deputy's time is up.

Mr. J. Higgins: -----the ripping to shreds of innocent men, women and children by the savage cluster bombing of the US and British forces who are there to grab the oil and outline imperial control. The fact that the Garda displayed no numbers was an outrage. If the Minister wants to deploy his riot-clad Garda against violent people I suggest he sends them to Shannon to turn back the tens of thousands of US military-----

Acting Chairman: The Deputy is well over time.

Mr. J. Higgins: -----who are going to wreak more havoc on the unfortunate people of Iraq.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): It might be helpful if I outline the circumstances surrounding last night's events as conveyed to me by the Garda authorities. An anti-war protest organised jointly by the Anti-war Movement and the NGO Alliance, as they call themselves, commenced at the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House at about 7 o'clock yesterday evening. Initially, a small number of protesters gathered and were contained behind crowd control barriers in Molesworth Street.
During the next hour another group of protesters gathered in Kildare Street opposite the National Library. A leader of the Anti-war Movement who was with these protesters was advised by the Garda that if any protesters tried to block the entrance to Leinster House, either by a sit-down protest or by massing in front of it, the Garda would have to remove them. Shortly afterwards, this second group grew larger and they were asked by the Garda to join the other protesters behind the crowd control barriers in Molesworth Street. They were unwilling to do so and were joined in Kildare Street by the first group of protesters. The crowd, which now numbered over 300, moved further up Kildare Street and stood directly in front of the entrance of Leinster House waving placards and chanting slogans. At about 8.15 p.m. the Garda had to clear a corridor through the crowd to enable a member of this House to safely drive his car away. The crowd then staged a sit-down protest at the entrance gate to Leinster House.
Additional Garda, including members of the Public Order Unit, were then called to the scene and proceeded to clear away the sit-down protesters, who were carried to a gap in the crowd control barriers and released. The stewarding of the protest was ineffective and, in fact, many of the stewards took a leading role in resisting Garda efforts to clear a path through the crowd. A number of members of this House had interaction with the protesters and the Garda found it necessary to remove Deputy Joe Higgins.
The protest ended at 10.30 p.m. and those involved dispersed without further incident. The Government recognises that many people have deeply felt opinions on the war in Iraq. It recognises too the right of these people to protest peacefully and express their views. Indeed, the Garda had gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the protesters last night could express their views outside this House peaceably. However, it defies all reason to suggest that the protesters had any right to block access to or egress from Leinster House. To suggest otherwise is a recipe for
anarchy. In these circumstances, the Garda moved to remove the people causing an obstruction, using the minimum force necessary. There has been some adverse comment about the fact that the Public Order Unit was used. That, of course, was an operational decision, but the plain fact is that some of the protesters last night were causing public disorder.
Under the Offences against the State Act 1939, it is unlawful to persist with a protest within the vicinity of Leinster House when called on by a Garda to desist. Members of the Garda Public Order Unit do not have numbers on the special clothing which they wear. Both the Garda Commissioner and I have agreed that a means will be found to address this issue. However, in saying this, I
want to emphasise that there is no evidence that members of the unit behaved with anything other than complete propriety last night. Deputy Higgins was happy to appear on the front of the newspapers being removed gently by the Garda Siochána-----

Mr. J. Higgins: That is outrageous. The Minister should give way.

Mr. McDowell: I will not give way. The Deputy has had his opportunity. He made a fool of himself once, and I suggest he sit down now and listen to other people. What about my right to make my speech without being barracked by somebody who is not a democrat at all but believes in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat as soon as he possibly can?

Mr. J. Higgins: That is too funny to even reply too.

Mr. McDowell: I do not take lectures on democracy from a Trotskyite communist like Deputy Joe Higgins. I know what he really wants to do.


Acting Chairman (Mr. O'Shea): I ask the Minister to stick to the matter under discussion.

Mr. McDowell: There is no evidence available to me that the Garda acted unreasonably or disproportionately. In fact, Deputy Higgins shook the hands of the Garda who removed him, but he did not tell that to the media this morning because he was intent on preening as a victim of his own bad manners and unlawful conduct-----

Mr. J. Higgins: That is absolutely untrue. Whose hand did I shake?-----

Mr. McDowell: The Deputy is a disgrace. He was seen by a priest shaking the hands of the Garda-----

Mr. J. Higgins: How did I shake hands that were wrapped in thermal gear?

Acting Chairman: The Chair is standing. I will not tolerate any toing and froing on this issue. I ask the Minister to please stick to the issues under discussion.

Mr. McDowell: I am sticking precisely to the issues. The Deputy-----

Acting Chairman: I will not brook any argument on this.

Mr. McDowell: The Chair will do its duty as the Chair of this House.

Mr. J. Higgins: The Minister is telling the Chair how to do his job now.

Acting Chairman: I ask the Minister to address the issue before the House.

Mr. McDowell: I was pointing out that Deputy Higgins shook the hand of the Garda and was seen doing do by a person who told radio listeners about it today-----

Mr. J. Higgins: That is untrue. The Minister persists with an untruth-----

Acting Chairman: Resume your seat, Deputy Higgins. The issue before the House, Minister, is whether you intend to hold an inquiry.

Mr. McDowell: The issue is whether there is any reason to have an inquiry, and there is not. We should be clear about one thing. Last night's incident need not have happened. The protesters were made aware that they would not be allowed to block the entrance to the Oireachtas. Had they stayed behind the crowd control barriers, as requested by the Garda, there would have been no difficulties whatsoever. They could have made their point without any Garda intervention but chose not to do so. If any individual has a complaint against the behaviour of the Garda there are, of course, procedures for complaints to be investigated.

Mr. J. Higgins: The procedures are a laughing stock, and the Minister knows it.

Mr. McDowell: I invite any of the Deputies opposite to make a complaint if they believe they were ill-treated in any way, but they were not. They were treated courteously but effectively. In all the circumstances, to call for an inquiry into the actions of the Garda would be misguided. Indeed, the Garda could reasonably expect, and have received, the gratitude of the great majority of Members of this House for dealing with the protesters, including Deputy Joe Higgins, in an appropriate and effective manner.

Mr. J. Higgins: As well as helping to send cluster bombs to Iraq.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 4 April 2003.