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
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
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
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
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
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
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.