In a video posted online by David Ó Laigheanáin, a car can be seen parked on a cycle lane in Dublin. Ó Laigheanáin – the cyclist who filmed the incident – goes around the car and waits for the driver to return so he can tell him not to park there. He later posted that video online, and shared the link on Twitter, where he tagged the official Garda Twitter account.
However, Ó Laigheanáin was disappointed when – instead of offering any help with reporting the incident through official channels – the Garda Twitter account simply asked him to remove the video. “Please remove as you are identifying a particular vehicle,” they replied.
Gardaí have attracted controversy over the past week for asking Twitter users to remove videos taken of people driving dangerously and parking illegally, saying they should report incidents at Garda stations instead.
But some cyclists say that they feel let down by gardaí, who have not taken their past complaints seriously. Some – like Ó Laigheanáin – have now resorted to posting videos of incidents on social media to draw attention to the dangers cyclists face.
Lack of responses
Geoff Irwin, who lives in Galway and is chairman of the Galway Cycling Campaign, says he has had four separate incidents as a cyclist, and only one was followed up by gardaí.
“Unless there’s been an actual crash or something like that, the guards won’t give you any kind of response,” Irwin says.
“I reported something quite recently. One of the days, when I was cycling, someone overtook me going around a blind bend. If someone had been coming around the other side of it, they would have been killed. I had the footage recorded and reported it, and they said, ‘Well, did anyone get hurt?’ I said, ‘Well, no, but no one got hurt because of luck.’
“The kind of person who buys a camera for personal protection and safety when they’re cycling, they’re very conscious of their safety generally. And when they’re going to the trouble of reporting something and to have it constantly ignored, it just causes frustration,” Irwin says.
He also argues that some individual members of the Garda are sympathetic to cyclists, but that the wider organisation is “not aware of the issues that many people on bikes on the road face”.
A lot of cyclists have had very negative experiences in Garda stations
Like Irwin, Conn Donovan, who works with the Cork Cycling Campaign, says he felt he was not taken seriously when he went to gardaí about an incident in October. “A lot of cyclists have had very negative experiences in Garda stations, where they don’t feel that their concerns are being taken seriously, so then they resort to social media.”
Meanwhile, Sandra Madden, who lives in Cork, says she would not bother reporting road incidents to the gardaí after a previous incident was never followed up. In 2015, while driving, a truck merged into her lane and almost crashed into her. She had to swerve out of the way into another lane, and says the incident was a “near miss”. Afterwards, she gave a statement to gardaí and waited to hear back, but heard nothing more about it.
Since then, she has taken up cycling, and is “very concerned” for her safety while she is on her bike. But she has not reported subsequent incidents she has experienced as a cyclist to gardaí. “They just don’t want to know about it,” she believes.
Another cyclist posted a video on Twitter last week and tagged the Garda Twitter account. In the video, a taxi can be seen driving very close to him. As with Ó Laigheanáin, the Garda Twitter account told the account owner he should not post the video online. They continued: “Data protection everyone is entitled to their good name. Report the matter at a Garda station.”
When Simon McGarr – who is a solicitor and the director of Data Compliance Europe – saw the official Garda Twitter account asking users to remove content for data protection reasons, he asked them to clarify what section of the Data Protection Act they were referring to. He has not yet received a response.
The publication of videos which identify suspects may jeopardise future court cases
“If the gardaí are engaging with the public and citing law, I think the correct principle is that they should be able to cite the statute and the provision of law that they’re referring to,” McGarr says. “Guards can say, ‘I think everyone should wear a high-vis jacket.’ That’s clearly an expression of a correct and well-founded opinion in lots of circumstances.
“But if they say something is in breach of the Data Protection Act, then it’s important that they don’t say that without knowing what the breach might be and being able to tell people.”
The Irish Times asked the Garda Press Office to clarify how the Data Protection Act or General Data Protection Regulation would prohibit people from posting these videos online, and to explain why they had asked Ó Laigheanáin to remove his video.
The press office re-sent a statement issued earlier in the week, reiterating that such videos should not be posted on social media. When pressed for clarification, gardaí said that posting such videos was “problematic” as it “doesn’t respect a person’s right to their good name and due process”.
The Garda statement said: “Anyone who wishes to report an incident and has video of the occurrence should contact Traffic Watch or their local Garda station. All reports received by gardaí will be fully investigated.”
It added anyone who had video of an alleged incident would be asked to “upload the entire sequence and make it available to investigators” and to make a written statement.
An accused person would be interviewed and a complainant might also be required to give evidence in court. However, it was for a court to decide on innocence or guilt and not social media users.
“The publication of videos which identify suspects may jeopardise future court cases,” said the Garda statement.
For the cyclists who have been reprimanded by the gardaí for posting videos on Twitter, questions remain.