Gardaí investigating large gathering of people at Four Courts

Supporters of Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters gathered as pair brought judicial review over Covid-19 restrictions

 Supporters of John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty pictured outside the Four Courts on Tuesday. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Supporters of John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty pictured outside the Four Courts on Tuesday. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

The Garda has said it is investigating a group of about 100 people who gathered in the Four Courts on Tuesday in breach of the Covid-19 movement restrictions.

Dozens of supporters of activists Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters gathered in the Round Hall of the building as the pair brought a judicial review claiming the Government’s emergency movement restrictions are illegal.

The gathering drew condemnation from many, including the Courts Service and members of the legal profession.

The group remained for about three hours before dispersing. An urgent childcare application involving a child with special needs had to be adjourned because of the health concerns posed by the group.

A Garda spokesman told The Irish Times on Wednesday that gardaí asked some of the group to disperse “due to concerns over adherence to current government instructions on non-essential journeys and social distancing.”

However several “failed to comply” and their names were taken “along with other evidence,” he said.

“The group eventually dispersed and no arrests were made. Investigations are ongoing.”

The emergency legislation grants gardaí the power to arrest those engaging in non-essential travel, an offence which carries up to six months in prison and a maximum €2,500 fine. Thirty two people have been arrested under the legislation since the new powers came into force on April 8th. On Tuesday a man in Wexford was jailed for three months for breaching the restrictions twice and a series of road traffic offences.

The legislation permits travel for litigants with business before the courts but not for their supporters.

The Garda said it is operating a graduated, four-step response to those in breach of the movement restrictions: “engage, educate, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce.”

At around the same time as the Four Courts incident on Tuesday, gardaí on Henry Street in Dublin also directed a small group of former Debenhams workers to move on after they had gathered for a protest against their treatment by the company.

“Due to concerns over adherence to current government instructions on non-essential journeys local gardaí asked all persons present to disperse which they did without incident,” the spokesman said.

Debenhams workers gathered to protest outside the store on Henry Street, Dublin, were asked to move by gardaí. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Debenhams workers gathered to protest outside the store on Henry Street, Dublin, were asked to move by gardaí. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A garda source said members faced a “very difficult situation” in the Four Courts on Tuesday. “We had five or six people there I believe. Trying to arrest them would have been nearly impossible and possibly dangerous to everyone,” he said. “And it would play right into their hands. I imagine some of them were eager to be arrested just so it could go up on Facebook. ”

A Courts Service spokesman said it is “disappointed and appalled that people chose, or organised ... to attend in large numbers, despite not being required to be there – and thus endangered themselves, gardaí, court staff, and court users to infection.”

The case brought by Mr Waters and Ms O’Doherty, who are representing themselves, has been adjourned for two weeks while the State prepares a response. Afterwards Ms O’Doherty gave an address to her supporters in the Round Hall where she compared gardaí enforcing the legislation to Nazi war criminals.

“They will say ‘oh we’re just following orders. And you will remind them of what happened to those after the second World War who were just following orders.

“They were hanged, they were hanged. And the same people who say they are just following orders will be held to account,” she said to cheers and applause.