Tone of some water charges protests ‘unacceptable’ - Garda chief

‘What is very worrying is change in sentiment’ of certain protests, says Nóirín O’Sullivan

 When asked for her view on the abuse President Michael D Higgins recently  faced when leaving a school in Finglas, Dublin,  Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan  said it was “unacceptable that any person” be subjected to protests of that nature. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

When asked for her view on the abuse President Michael D Higgins recently faced when leaving a school in Finglas, Dublin, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said it was “unacceptable that any person” be subjected to protests of that nature. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Some of the protests against water charges had changed in “tone and sentiment” and were now “unacceptable”, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has said.

With the Garda having provided additional resources to protect Cabinet Ministers who might encounter water protesters around the country, Ms O’Sullivan added that those Garda members had themselves been targeted.

“People are entitled to democratically protest,” she said at an event in the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, to mark the intake of 100 new recruits.

“I suppose what is very worrying is the change in tone and sentiment of that type of protest.

“That’s especially so in terms of the men and women of An Garda Síochána; the abuse that members are putting up with.

“And again, I think from the public’s point of view, it has demonstrated the tenacity and resilience of the men and women of An Garda Síochána in dealing with that.”

When asked for her view on the abuse President Michael D Higgins faced when leaving a school in Finglas, Dublin, the week before last, Ms O’Sullivan said it was “unacceptable that any person” be subjected to protests of that nature.

President Higgins was targeted because he had signed into law the legislation that provides for water charges.

A number of those who gathered around his car shouted expletives and personal insults, all of which were captured on camera.

Clash with protesters

Gardaí on duty clashed with a small number of protesters as they tried to block the car carrying the President.

Ms O’Sullivan said it was very important to remember that most people who protested against water charges did so in a very peaceful manner.

“But there are some people who are there and who are intent on causing deliberate disruption. And that interferes with people who want to air their democratic opinion.”

Tánaiste Joan Burton rejected a suggestion that the Government’s decision shortly after taking office to cease providing Garda drivers to all Ministers should now be reversed, such was the robust nature of some of the protests over water charges.

“I think the arrangements that are now in place are working very well,” she said at the Templemore event.

However, the “changes in the tenor and tone of a very small group of people” were a concern.

‘Worrying development’

“It’s a worrying development and I think that’s what needs to be addressed. The way to address issues is between dialogue and mutual respect.”

She stressed those involved in some robust protesting were “a very tiny minority”.

Ms Burton refuted suggestions from the media that her presence and that of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in Templemore represented a concerted effort by the Government to mend relations with the Garda after a scandal-hit period.

Normally, only ministers for justice attend such events.

Ms Burton said they were there to welcome in a new class of recruits, approval for which had been granted last year.

Ms O’Sullivan said the event marked the first time a serving taoiseach had visited the college.

“The fact is that the Government, in the budget in October, made specific provision for additional recruitment of gardaí for the first time since 2009,” said Ms Burton.

She said the Government “holds the gardaí in great esteem”.

However, oversight and the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission were equally important.