Gardaí have no role in evictions and ‘need roles clarified’, says association
Agsi says public need to understand gardaí are only at eviction to police public disorder
The Garda Armed Support Unit called to an eviction dispute in Dublin’s north inner city. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Gardaí are being caught in an impossible position when deployed to the scene of evictions, have been issued with threats as a result and now badly needed their roles clarified, Garda sergeants and inspectors have said.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said some Garda members had been threatened after being identified on social media in photographs taken by members of the public at evictions.
Agsi is calling on senior Garda management to examine the contentious area so gardaí will no longer be caught between members of the local communities they police and a sheriff’s eviction party.
And while the problem was of concern to gardaí all over the country, Agsi said its members who police close knit rural communities were being placed in an especially difficult position.
Members of the public need to understand that gardaí are only present at evictions to police any public disorder that may occur but have no role in evictions, the association says.
Last year an eviction in Roscommon was recorded and went viral on social media, leading to a highly charged atmosphere locally and criticism of local gardaí who were present.
Violent scenes at the property in question followed days after the eviction, when a group of people attacked the security workers who had carried out the eviction and remained on at the house.
The McGann family were evicted from the house last December after a dispute with KBC bank over a loan. And when the security workers who evicted them were attacked and forced to flee the property or were hospitalised, the family moved back in.
Now members of the force say because evictions are civil matters they want their roles made clearer.
Sgt Paul McDermott, representing the Roscommon Garda division, told delegates at Agsi’s annual conference in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, that action was required immediately.
He said Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had promised legislative changes to ensure that security workers carrying out evictions must comply with the rules of the sector’s governing body, the Private Security Authority.
Sgt McDermott said just as that legislation was being examined and changed, Garda management needed to make changes to assist gardaí.
“There should be a set of standard operating procedures put in place for clarity for our members on duty at these events,” he said of evictions.
Gardaí in rural Ireland were “embedded” in the communities they policed and that “complex issues” arose for them when they were deployed to an eviction.
“Our role is only there to make sure breach of peace doesn’t occur. You are stuck in the middle between the sheriff and his agents and also [locals] and the people involved in the eviction.
“There have been other incidents where [gardaí] have been identified – not in our area – and [photographs] put up on social media and threats were put up.
“It’s a stressful thing. That is our job and we don’t shy back from taking those difficult decisions. That’s what we have to do.”
Sgt McDermott added when footage was posted online of gardaí at evictions, it tended to show only one side of an incident, or part of it. If the gardaí were issued with body-worn cameras it would offer them protection against false allegations about their conduct at evictions.
He added the Garda also needed better advance notice of evictions so they could put a policing plan and health and safety plan in place.
Agsi members say they also want it made clear to the public that the individual gardaí who are deployed to evictions have no choice but to be present.
They pointed out that courts issue orders granting banks and other parties permission to take possession of properties, usually when a load is defaulted on.
When those orders are being executed, a level of force is allowed under the law to remove people from a property in cases where they refuse to leave willingly.
Senior Garda management in communities around the Republic are informed of evictions and assess them for risk. And in cases where it is suspect public disorder may result from an eviction, gardaí are deployed as a precautionary measure.
The Garda staff associations have long complained that their members on duty at evictions were being photographed and identified online, even though they had no direct role in an eviction and were effectively ordered to be present by their managers.