Extra human rights training needed for gardaí to protect protest rights, says report

ICCL warns of ‘serious and urgent concerns’ at how State deals with protest and dissent

 

An Garda Síochána should introduce additional human rights training for members of the force to ensure public protestors are treated with respect and dignity, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said.

The organisation warned on Wednesday of “serious and urgent concerns” around how the Irish State deals with protest and dissent following a three-day public consultation between June 19th-22nd with protest groups from Dublin, Cork and Ennis.

The ICCL said environmental activists, anti-war demonstrators, anti-eviction groups and asylum activists who protested away from the media spotlight reported experiencing a much more “heavy-handed” Garda response than large, more mainstream protesters. The report also heard from housing activists who claimed they had been “strip searched” and faced other humiliating treatment following arrest.

Consultations with people living in direct provision centres heard that those who spoke up about conditions in accommodation centres had faced food restrictions, while others complained of being transferred to another hostel after voicing concerns. Residents also alleged being told that applications for asylum would be looked on less favourably if they participated in protests.

ICCL representatives also head reports of “serious deficiencies” in how the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) handled complaints and the imposition of Garda limits on where protests can be held “without a clear basis in law”.

It found arrested protestors had “allegedly been encouraged to give statements without lawyers present, and in some cases even denied access to their lawyers” while direct provision residents reported being labelled by management and gardaí as “illegal”, with some escorted in handcuffs to public spaces where they were “allowed to protest”.

The consultation included reports that gardaí evicted protestors from squats when media were not present and that those arrested at protests were subjected to treatment that “interferes with their right to dignity, including psychological trauma, strip-searching and being forced to squat and cough”.

A co-author of the report, Doireann Ansboro, expressed concern that not all gardaí fully understood the meaning of a person’s right to protest. “Gardaí need to understand that the right to protest extends to private places that public have access to. It means understanding that protest is not just about large marches with prior notification. It can also mean meetings and sit-ins and other gatherings of people wishing to express a common idea,” she said.

Launching the report, ICCL director Liam Herrick said its findings were “an essential part of the conversation” around the right to protest in Ireland. The experiences of participants in the consultations needed to be listened to, he said. “We shouldn’t be aspiring to tolerating protests, we should be looking to facilitate and promote the right to protest.

“The salient point for us has been that while the Government and An Garda Síochána are supportive of large protests taking place on the main thoroughfares of Ireland, when it comes to protestors living on the margins of society or protesting outside of the media spotlight, the garda and State responses can be much more heavy-handed,” he said.

Asked to comment on the findings of the consultation, a Garda spokesman said the force was “committed to protecting the democratic right to lawful peaceful protest while also ensuring people can peacefully go about their daily business”. He added that any member of the public who felt they had been illtreated by gardaí could make a complaint to GSOC.

Speaking at the meeting of the policing authority with the Garda Commissioner, Deputy chief inspector Hugh Hume said the inspectorate had found no evidence that gardaí were abusing the Public Order Act as a means of closing down protests. He added that gardaí had consulted with the ICCL around the report.

The Garda Ombudsman declined to comment, saying it had had no input into the report.