Gardaí must be held accountable when they use force, chief executive of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Liam Herrick has said, describing claims over excessive oversight of the Garda as a “cynical distraction”.
In an article in The Irish Times on Wednesday, Mr Herrick warned against any response to the riots that impinged on people’s rights, and said using initiatives like facial recognition technology “to tackle situations like last Thursday are less than convincing”.
Speaking further to RTÉ Radio on Wednesday, Mr Herrick said it was “clearly the responsibility of Garda management to make clear to members of the organisation what the law is on the use of force, and then to provide adequate training and the skills to make the decisions that they need to make around the use of force”.
He was commenting after Garda members expressed concern that gardaí were reluctant to confront rioters amid concern that the use of force would lead to complaints to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc).
Mr Herrick said: “It’s not the responsibility of the Policing Authority. It’s certainly not the responsibility of Gsoc. This is absolutely fundamental to policing. It is what policing is all about, that they are charged under the rule of law with exercising force proportionately when necessary, to protect public safety.”
If members of An Garda Síochána did not understand the law and were not properly trained then they were being put in “an incredibly invidious position when asked to exercise force without that clarity”.
Mr Herrick said: “Regrettably, I think some of the [Garda] representative associations over the last 20 years have been resistant and hostile to robust investigation and accountability from an independent body. And we’re seeing this continuously. We have a lot of anecdotes coming out now that the guards are afraid to do their job because they’re afraid of unfair investigations.”
Mr Herrick said it was “a cynical distraction to suggest that the problems we had last week are in any way linked to having too much oversight. It’s implying that we can reduce the problems, which are very deep, to the suggestion that you either have light-touch policing or heavy-handed policing, that we just need more force and the problems will go away.
“What we’ve been hearing from guards is that there was a complete failure of operational control last week. There’s a complete failure of management that we don’t have effective preparedness or intelligence about this problem,” Mr Herrick told Morning Ireland.
“And if the Policing Authority has the opportunity to examine those questions, I think we might get to the heart of what the problem is. But it is a cynical distraction to suggest that the only problem out there is guards might be investigated if they break the law.”
On Tuesday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said gardaí were authorised to use force where it was appropriate but that she had asked the Policing Authority to provide greater clarity on the levels permitted in given situations as to provide reassurance to members of the force.
Ms McEntee is due to take Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today while Garda Commissioner Drew Harris appears before the Oireachtas Justice Committee.
The Garda Representative Association representative for the Garda’s Dublin West division, Mark Ferris, said some gardaí had been unwilling to use force against the rioters due to a “culture of outright fear” of being investigated by Gsoc and then prosecuted by the DPP. That view was echoed on Tuesday by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Tuesday night that he wanted everyone to be safe and feel safe on the streets of the capital. Four public-order units comprising 42 Garda officers, six sergeants and two inspectors were now based in the city centre and would be there at least until Christmas, he said.
He said more gardaí will be recruited with new and better equipment, stronger laws, tougher sentences and at least 600 extra prison places. TDs were told that there were now 14,000 gardaí and this would rise to 14,500 by the end of 2024 and then 15,000 in 2025 as changes to the entry and retirement ages were made and recruitment was scaled up.
There were calls for stricter punishment for rioters with some TDs saying judges should be tougher with sentencing.
Meanwhile, Minister for Public Expenditure and Dublin Central TD Paschal Donohoe said the perception regarding the safety of Dublin city centre had been “very much changed” by the riots.
Speaking on a visit to the United States on Tuesday he said: “We have made clear that we will take all the steps that are needed to keep our city centre safe in the coming weeks. And we will.”
He said he had been advised not to travel into the city centre last Thursday night, noting gardaí were trying to deal with a very tense situation “and I don’t think the arrival of a Government Minister would have made it any easier to manage”.
He said he had attended the scene of the rioting on Friday morning “which was the first opportunity I had to go there without getting in the way with that the gardaí were doing”.
In the Dáil on Tuesday Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was on the scene in Dublin city centre last Thursday and did not recall seeing any members of Government “on the ground”.
Ms McDonald, who shares a constituency with Mr Donohoe, said that speaking to countless people they “all saw it coming” in terms of the protest and rioting and the only people who didn’t were those in charge – the Minister, Garda Commissioner and the Government.
Speaking later, Mr Donohoe said: “As a local representative from Dublin Central, I am absolutely aware of the challenges that we had within the city centre and the work that was being done by the gardaí to respond back to it.
“And I’ve also been aware of the challenges that we have faced in relation to antisocial behaviour. I mean, it’s a very typical thing from Sinn Féin. They claim that they are the only party of either understanding or compassion. No party in the Dáil has a monopoly on those qualities.
“I as much in touch with what is happening in the city as any other as any representative from Sinn Féin”, he said.
The Minister said the Government would now have to “add to its efforts” in tackling antisocial behaviour “and respond back to the concerns that all Dubliners have now regarding the safety of Dublin city centre”.
He said an initiative originally started by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny to regenerate city centre areas had been making significant progress.
“We have brought in really significant new programmes and new policies to support our schools in the area, particularly our primary schools. We have brought in new measures to support young people in getting work. We have brought in new measures to change the local appearance of the inner city,” Mr Donohoe said.
“And on top of that, we’ve made a number of very big decisions in relation to new primary school buildings, a new investment for a community centre in Rutland Street that we only announced a few weeks ago (and), for example, the new primary care centre in Ballybough.
“So this is all work that was on the way that is having an impact. But clearly the parts of that work we are going to have to add to now is to respond back to the concerns that are undoubtedly there now regarding our city centre.”