Are gardaí powerless to act against far-right protesters at politicians’ homes?

While some legislative provisions protect politicians and public officials from being targeted, once protests are peaceful gardaí feel their hands are tied

The protest outside Taoiseach Simon Harris's home was the second such incident in as many months. Photograph: Sam Boal/Collins

Last Friday night marked another protest by far-right agitators outside the home of Taoiseach Simon Harris in Greystones, Co Wicklow. It was the second such incident in as many months at Mr Harris’s home. Masked men carrying Tricolours gathered to make comments about migrants and the Covid-19 vaccine.

As the group, of about six, appeared on the street on Friday evening gardaí alighted from nearby patrol cars and engaged with them, asking repeatedly if they were there for peaceful purposes. The group assured a garda they would be peaceful and after making brief comments, mainly against the centre in Ballyogan, South Dublin, for migrants seeking refuge, they dispersed.

A video of the incident appeared to show the protest lasted for less than two minutes and took the form of a video and photo opportunity rather than a longer demonstration.

However, gardaí said the incident underlined the legal lacuna in which such protests can take place. While they had been criticised for allowing such protests to take place — also outside the homes of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman and others — many gardaí believe their hands are tied.


They say there is no specific legislation banning protests outside the homes of politicians and others. Added to that, they say, the Garda is obliged to uphold people’s right to protest, once that protest remains peaceful, even if it is outside a family dwelling.

“You look at that group the other night and it’s obvious they were doing it just to show nobody could stop them — for the sake of it,” said one member of the force. Other sources said, though the appearance of masked men was seen as sinister by most people in society, there was very little they could do unless there was a breach of the peace. One garda said “wearing a balaclava or scarves or hoods to hide your face isn’t illegal”.

The Offences Against the State Act 1939, section 7, offers protection to members of the ­Cabinet, judiciary and legislature from acts of intimidation. That provision was referenced last year, after violent protests outside the Dáil, and earlier this year when politicians’ houses were targeted again, as a possible means of targeting such protesters.

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However, while the Garda has consulted with the Director of Public Prosecutions about its possible use, no charges have arisen to date. The legislation also stipulates an offence is committed if suspects engaged in a way that “prevents or obstructs” the “carrying on of the government of the State” or any branch “whether legislative, judicial, or executive”. It is unclear if staging a protest outside the home of a Minister, judge or officials would, in a court of law, meet the threshold of blocking the carrying out of government.

While protests outside family homes — often Government politicians but also public health officials during the pandemic — has given rise to significant concern, such events are not new.

More than a decade ago then taoiseach Enda Kenny was targeted at his home in Castlebar, Co Mayo. In 2013, a fathers’ rights group, some of them masked, staged a protest outside the house when Mr Kenny’s wife and son were present. The following year, a protest was staged for several days by anti-water charge protesters outside the home in Raheny, north Dublin, of then Dublin North East Labour TD Seán Kenny.

The Protection of Private Residences (Against Targeted Picketing) Bill 2021 was put forward three years ago by Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne. It would give more powers to gardaí to act against those engaged in protests but has not yet passed through the Seanad. Whether it will be enacted, and when that may happen, remain unclear.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times