Use of ‘hoods’ at housing protest ‘not correct’ – Garda Commissioner

Drew Harris says gardaí had been physically, verbally and racially abused during protest

Six people have been arrested after housing activists were removed from a property at 34 North Frederick Street in Dublin's north inner city. Video: Jack Power

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris have said gardaí were upholding the law when policing a homelessness protest in Dublin city earlier in the week.

However, Mr Harris described as “not correct” gardaí wearing hoods while policing the protest. He has asked for a report on the operation to see if any lessons can be learned.

He also revealed gardaí had been physically and verbally abused and that one Garda member was racially abused.

The Irish Times understands a Garda member from a ethnic minority was both racially abused and assaulted, and it was after that, with tensions rising generally, that gardaí in riot gear were called in.

Mr Varadkar said that, like most people, he did not like to see what he called a “private security firm” involved in an event such as the ending of a protest over the housing crisis.

Mr Harris’s remarks were seen as significant as they are the first substantive comments he has made on a policing operation since taking over as commissioner.

Public commentary

They came after 48 hours of intense media and public commentary following clashes on Tuesday evening outside a building that was being occupied on North Frederick Street. He said gardaí exercised restraint in the face of physical, verbal and racial abuse.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcome the comments by Mr Harris and the fact he had requested a report. It called for the report to be made public.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates complaints made about Garda members, said it had received 10 communications about the protest.

A number of men acting for the owner of the occupied property, and wearing balaclavas, went into the property and told four protestors inside they must leave, which they did.

The landlord’s agents then secured the property and left after about an hour. It was at that point that the event escalated and the Garda deployed the Public Order Unit, or riot squad.

The fact the landlord’s agents and the gardaí were wearing hoods or balaclavas has been seen as contentious. And it was that issue that Mr Harris commented on in detail.

“The use of a fire-retardant hood by public order officers is a matter for the operational commander on the ground,” he said.

“[Hoods are] designed to protect the safety of our members based on a risk assessment. However, the form of dress used at the event was not correct as it is policy that if it is deemed necessary to use the hood, then it should be used in tandem with a protective helmet.”

Directive

Mr Harris said a directive was issued on Thursday to gardaí “to reinforce this requirement to all personnel”.

He added gardaí had shown restraint in the face of abuse, adding the Garda wanted to facilitate protests.

But, he said, gardaí also had to ensure people could safely go about their work, in this case executing the High Court’s order that protestors leave the property.

Mr Harris explained that a small number of uniform gardaí were deployed outside the property initially. But as the atmosphere “grew more tense” the public order gardaí were called in “to ensure public safety”.

Mr Varadkar said he “will always defend” the right of people to protest, but that right also carried responsibilities. He said in this case there was a High Court order and it was the job of gardaí to enforce the law. He insisted gardaí were wearing “hoods” as protective equipment but had their numbers on display.