Garda train up fresh personnel for secretive ‘protester removal team’

Figures show 23 officers were trained in specialist techniques last year, which include cutting locks and removing glue from demonstrators

Last year, there were 617 protests in Dublin alone, with 235 relating to anti-immigration sentiments. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda management has started replenishing the numbers of a secretive unit tasked with removing protesters from Government buildings and public spaces.

The National Public Order Protester Removal Team is a small unit dedicated to dealing with demonstrators engaging in “direct action” by taking over an area and refusing to leave. Methods include barricading themselves inside and chaining themselves to railings.

In the past decade, 162 gardaí have completed training in this area during 11 protester removal courses, according to data released under Freedom of Information legislation.

After 2018, training of new protester removal specialists slowed to a near standstill, with only one course taking place between 2019 and 2022, and eight officers receiving training.

READ MORE

That changed last year, when large-scale training resumed. Two courses were held in 2023 which saw 23 officers receiving training. It was the first time since 2015 that two courses were held in a single year.

More courses are expected to take place this year as gardaí deal with increasing numbers of protests on issues including immigration, farming regulations and Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Last year, there were 617 protests in Dublin alone, with 235 relating to anti-immigration sentiments. During the year, 54 people were arrested across 25 protests.

Several recent protests saw pro-Palestinian activists occupying buildings, including the Department of Transport and the European Commission’s Dublin headquarters.

Training for protester removal specialists includes how to cut safety chains and locks and remove glue and other adhesives from demonstrators. Officers are also trained on how to safely remove protesters from heights.

Sources said the protester removal team was not used during domestic evictions or against squatters in residential settings as these were generally considered civil rather than criminal matters.

“Protest removal teams and training is a very specialised, bespoke training course,” a Garda spokesman said.

“The purpose of this course is to equip selected members with the skills and training necessary to fulfil the requirements of the National Public Order Protester Removal Team in relation to the policing of non-violent direct action protest tactics used by protesters to frustrate their removal or arrest, including the use of locks, chains, adhesives, etc.”

The Garda said significant parts of the programme related to human rights, ethics and the Garda use of force policy. He said no further detailed information could be provided.

As well as increasing the size of the protester removal team, Garda management is drafting in additional public order gardaí to police demonstrations with the potential for violence. Gardaí are also to receive new, strong pepper spray and smaller, more portable shields.

The Garda are also preparing a “business case” for the purchase of two water cannons for riot control.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times