Complaints on policing of protest to be reviewed

 

THE GARDA Síochána Ombudsman Commission has received 10 complaints about the policing of a student demonstration on Wednesday at which sections of protesters clashed violently with gardaí.

The ombudsman commission, which investigates complaints against officers, received three complaints on Thursday and a further seven yesterday.

The grievances centre on allegations gardaí used excessive force during the disturbances in Dublin city centre at the end of the rally. A spokesman for the ombudsman said its investigators would review each complaint and decide if they were admissible before any investigation was begun.

The Garda’s public order unit, or riot squad, was deployed during the clashes and the force’s mounted unit and dog unit were also used to help bring the protest under control.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which organised the mass rally through Dublin city centre, quickly distanced itself from the small section present on the day that clashed with gardaí.

The USI blamed “left-wing” groups for the “destructive and anti-social violence” which it said diverted attention from its campaign against higher student fees.

USI and Garda sources said a hard-core group of about 50 protesters intent on trouble had hijacked the demonstration.

Sinn Féin supporters, the Socialist Workers Party and republican socialist group Éirígí were prominent among about 50 protesters at the centre of the disturbances. The group gained access to the Department of Finance building on Merrion Row where the 25,000 strong march culminated.

Gardaí said when the group refused to leave the building, the public order unit was sent in to remove them in the interests of public safety. Disturbances then continued on the street outside with missiles, including bricks and beer cans, being thrown at officers and Garda horses.

Some protesters suffered cuts to the head and bloody noses during the scuffles with gardaí, who drew their batons.

One officer was admitted to hospital with a broken nose, while two others were treated at the scene for minor injuries. There were three arrests and two people were charged with criminal damage and breach of the peace offences.

A Garda spokesman said the USI and gardaí held meetings before the event at which the route was agreed. The force had put in place a policing operation in proportion with the event.

However, the spokesman said when a small group turned “violent and militant” and attacked gardaí, the Garda’s contingency plan involving more robust policing was put into action. He said the Garda’s actions on the day were at all times in proportion to the situation on the ground.

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP, who was not at the demonstration but viewed amateur video footage of it, questioned the Garda’s tactics. “The use of Garda horses and dogs . . . is an outrageous abuse of the right to protest. The intention was clearly to intimidate peaceful protesters.”