McGanns who returned to family house have the same legal status as protesters

‘You only have to look at the hate for gardaí on Facebook this week’

The scene on Tuesday at the house in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, which was the centre of then eviction. Photograph: Brian Farrell

The scene on Tuesday at the house in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, which was the centre of then eviction. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

Members of the McGann family who have returned to their family home in Co Roscommon after being evicted last week now have the same legal status in the house as protesters, according to legal sources.

The property is no longer owned by farmer Anthony McGann because the order of possession granted to KBC in the High Court last August has been executed. It means the bank now owns the property.

“The strict legal position is that they are trespassing on the property in the same way [Take Back the City] protesters were at a house in Dublin city centre a few months ago,” said the source.

Last Tuesday, December 11th, the McGanns were forcibly evicted from the house at Falsk near Strokestown. Footage of the incident has gone viral.

In the days that followed security personnel working for KBC remained in the house. However, they were attacked by a group of vigilantes in the early hours of Sunday.

The security personnel were forced out of the house in an organised attack with paramilitary-style planning and during which baseball bats were used, vans were burnt out, a road was blocked and a dog was killed.

A protest announced by Republican Sinn Féin for Strokestown next Sunday will likely be closely policed.

The Irish Times has established that Mr McGann has had his home repossessed by KBC bank over a loan of more than €300,000 which he took out under the name Michael Anthony McGann. He also has a range of other outstanding loans.

The High Court granted an order of possession to KBC on August 8th, which was later renewed when Mr McGann refused to leave. It then fell to the Roscommon sheriff to execute the order.

Vacate the property

Mr McGann was written to and called on several times by personnel from the sheriff’s office since September to ask him to vacate the property.

After being called on at the house by what is known as the “sheriff’s messenger” again on December 9th, Mr McGann was once more urged to leave.

He was also informed that possession of the property would be taken two days later, December 11th. In other words, he was told he would be evicted.

The sheriff then informed KBC and the local Garda management that an eviction scenario was likely.

Last Thursday, the sheriff’s messenger delivered the documentation to the McGann house which executed the order of possession granted to KBC in August. The role of the sheriff’s office immediately ended, and the house became the property of KBC.

And as the owner of the house it was then a matter for KBC to decide how, when and whether it would remove by force the people who refused to leave.

KBC had in advance assembled a group of men for that purpose and permitted under law to use some force in removing people if required.

A team of gardaí was also present on the day to deter and tackle public disorder and any other crimes that occurred during the eviction process. However, they have no role in executing court orders unless a judge stipulates otherwise, which would be highly unusual.

Security work

And while the Private Security Authority regulates the security sector, the execution of court orders is not deemed to be security work.

It means people enforcing court orders are not obliged to have any training or to identify themselves in the way security guards are. Their actions are not regulated in any way, and there is no complaints mechanism.

A court order empowers a property owner to use force to remove people from a building. And the property owner can pass on that power to use force to anybody they choose.

Garda sources told The Irish Times that no gardaí wanted to be present when evictions were being carried out. However, they had no option but to follow orders from their senior officers.

“In these tight-knit places, one event like Roscommon will be remembered for decades,” said one. “And people also know which particular gardaí were involved, and that’ll never be forgotten.

“Once it is on video up on Facebook, one incident can cause a huge backlash against all gardaí. You only have to look at the hate on Facebook this week.”

Another garda noted that while the house was being repossessed in Co Roscommon on behalf of KBC, “the only people who weren’t there was KBC”.

Justice sources said there was increasing concern in the department and in the Garda oversight agencies that evictions could very badly damage the Garda in the years ahead as more took place. They believed the Garda needed to examine ways to better handle what is its peripheral role in evictions.

Risk of disorder

One official said that in Scotland police communicated via loud-hailer when on duty at public events that carried a risk of disorder; a tactic proven to bring calm. If police lines moved, helmets were put on or batons were drawn, crowds were told in advance and assured such moves were precautionary.

“With something like an eviction in a country with our history it would be really important for gardaí to communicate why they are there and to make it clear they are not evicting anyone.

“Some of the videos made them look like a protection team for an eviction team working for the banks. The optics are all wrong, and they can’t afford to lose the support of communities.”