Policing of Jobstown water charges protest a ‘success’ – Garda review

Demonstration in 2014 saw then-tánaiste Joan Burton being trapped in car for hours

The Garda's rescue of former tánaiste Joan Burton of Labour and her assistant from a 2014 anti-water charges protest in Jobstown, Dublin, meant the operation on the day was a policing success, a new internal review has found.

However, it was “questionable” how successful the subsequent Garda investigations of the protesters and their actions had been.

While high-profile prosecutions followed, including of Paul Murphy TD, six protesters were acquitted after a lengthy trial. Other cases were discontinued.

"From an objective perspective, this investigation was brought to a successful conclusion, with a significant number of files submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions in an efficient and expeditious manner," the review says of the investigations into the protest.


‘Sufficient compliance’

“The opinion of the review team is that although not all of the existing policies and procedures were followed to the letter, there was more than sufficient compliance,” it said.

Where policies and procedures were not followed during the investigation “this did not affect the overall outcome” of investigations.

“However, when set against the benchmark of court outcomes it is questionable as to how successful this investigation actually was,” the report says.

An executive summary of the Garda's internal review into the events in Jobstown 3½ years ago was published today by Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin.

The published material runs to just four pages. It includes only scant references to the contentious criminal trials that followed the protest.

It makes a range of recommendations to ensure advance information warning of likely disorder is picked up earlier. It also recommends that gardaí on the ground and Garda managers are better trained for such incidents.

It also suggests the flexibility of the Garda’s response to live incidents be improved.

The report finds there was no intelligence to specifically suggest a major protest would take place in Jobstown on November 15th, 2014.

However, “public order” incidents were occurring frequently at the time due to the installation of water meters.

The report says it should have been clear that further disorder was likely, in general terms rather than in location- or date-specific terms.

This was especially so leading up to Ms Burton being targeted, because in previous days there had been “specific incidents” of unrest.

“These events should have increased the level of risk and been picked up by Garda Intelligence,” the report says.

Then tánaiste Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell were trapped in a car for several hours as gardaí struggled to control the crowd.

The women were eventually switched to another vehicle. Though Ms Burton had missiles thrown at her during the stand-off, she and Ms O’Connell emerged physically unscathed.

Robust protest

While news of the disturbance and video images of a small number of gardaí struggling to control a robust protest spread quickly, the Garda review finds the policing operation on the day was a qualified success.

Neither Ms Burton nor Ms O’Connell was injured. Furthermore, no protesters were injured. There were no complaints by protesters over the Garda’s conduct on the day.

However, the report notes the policing operation “lacked strategic direction and various tactical options do not appear to have been explored”.

It also found Garda policies were inadequate in the areas of on-scene command and critical incident management.

The review notes a draft policy on public order incident command is completed and it recommends its publication “as a matter of urgency”.

“This will provide both direction and consistency in the policing of similar events into the future,” it says.

An examination of the communications transmitted to and from the Garda Communications Centre, Harcourt Square, "gives little indication of any strategic control or direction into how this event was managed", the report finds.

Critical firearms incidents

It notes that the recent introduction of a Garda policy on critical firearms incidents ascribes specific roles and obligations to the Garda communications office.

It recommends those firearms-related responsibilities for the communications office be extended to public order incidents.

Ms Burton had gone to Tallaght on the day in 2014 for the graduation of local women who had completed courses at An Cosán Education Centre.

As she was leaving, protesters surrounded her car and delayed her and Ms O’Connell for three hours.

Gardaí did not expect any protest and so only a small number of members, under an inspector, had been deployed.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times