DPP to consider charges against protest organisers

To date no one has been charged with organising a public event during the crisis

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is to consider charges against organisers of two protests which took place near the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the events being considered for prosecution is a Black Lives Matter protest which took place on June 6th following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota in the United States and was attended by up to 5,000 people.

The other is a gathering of about 100 people outside the Four Courts on April 21st in support of journalist turned far-right activist Gemma O’Doherty who was bringing a High Court challenge to the coronavirus restrictions.

Hospital Report

Investigations into both matters have concluded. Gardaí have already sent a file on the Black Lives Matter protest to the DPP while a file on the Four Courts demonstration is due to be sent shortly, a Garda spokesman confirmed.


High-profile demonstrations

To date, no one has been charged with organising events in contravention of the coronavirus emergency legislation introduced at the start of the pandemic in March. This is despite several high-profile public demonstrations and gatherings, including, most recently, three large anti-mask demonstrations in Dublin city centre.

It will be up to the DPP whether the organisers of the Four Courts and Black Lives Matter protests will face charges. It is understood gardaí faced difficulties definitively identifying the organisers of both protests, which, according to one Garda source, will make criminal charges unlikely.

Much of the organising for both events took place over social media which “makes it complicated” to identify who the original organisers were, they said.

The Health Act, 1947 and its associated statutory instruments make it a criminal offence to organise large events during the pandemic. Organisers face a €2,500 fine or up to six months in prison. While there are some exceptions, protests and demonstrations are not among them.

Investigations into other events, such as the Oireachtas Golf Society Dinner in Clifden on August 19th are still ongoing.

Other ongoing investigations include a rave held in Oliver Bond flats in Dublin on September 19th and three large Dublin events demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions in August and September.

This includes a demonstration organised by anti-lockdown group Health Freedom Ireland and the Yellow Vests on August 22nd which was attended by several thousand people and saw violence from far-right elements in attendance.

The same groups organised a much smaller event last Saturday which involved several hundred protesters staging a sit-in on Grafton Street. Gardaí said the protesters dispersed “without incident” and that an investigation has been launched.


The policing of protests has attracted some criticism from monitoring groups. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said protest should be permitted if they comply with social distancing rules.

The Policing Authority said the policing response could be seen as “inconsistent” and “unfair”. It was speaking in May after Garda dispersed a group of Debenhams protesters while allowing the Four Courts protest to continue.

However, the authority later praised the Garda approach which it noted is to “avoid escalation, arrests and physical contact” and encourage attendees to comply with coronavirus regulations.

While no one has yet been charged with organising a public event, at least one person has been prosecuted for holding a house party in breach in the regulations. Last month, Juztyna Orkwiszewski and her husband Krsystof Orkwiszewski of The Glebe, Kells, Co Meath, were fined €1,000 for hosting 30 people at a party.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times