Garda Commissioner 'concerned' over footage of protest


Garda Commissioner Mr Pat Byrne said today he was "concerned" by the television footage of police and protesters at a Reclaim The Streets march in Dublin on Monday.

Gardaí used batons on protesters at the end of the demonstration. Over 20 people were arrested, and the organisers said at least 14 people needed medical attention.

It emerged tonight that one of the Gardaí involved of in the clashes has been "reassigned to indoor duty". Commissioner Byrne said he had viewed the television footage of the events and was concerned by what he saw.

He went on to say that a "thorough and professional investigation" will be carried out and that all aspects, both criminal and disciplinary, will be looked at.

He said: "Everybody will be dealt with through due process and natural justice and that he would not be jumping to any conclusion ahead of the investigation being completed."

Speaking in Portlaoise, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern said: "I have seen the Garda over the years in difficult situations and they're normally very good.

"In this instance from all the reports and all the actions, and what my people have told me ... there certainly was at least one garda wielding a baton in a very indiscriminate way."

He said there were "heavy-handed actions" on the streets but that he had "every confidence that this matter will be looked at by the Garda".

Mr Ahern said: "If a garda goes in hitting people who are not really involved, or if they are using excessive force, that is never permissible and the Garda have their own disciplinary code on these matters."

The Minister for Justice, Mr John O'Donoghue, said any gardaí who exceeded agreed "reasonable force" during the disturbances in Dublin would face "consequences" for their actions.

"In an incident such as this it is even possible that criminal proceedings may be necessary against an individual or individuals," he said.

Speaking at the launch of the Fianna Fáil crime policy, Mr O'Donoghue promised to establish an independent Garda Inspectorate.

He added that he will "not necessarily" accept the reports of officers as the definitive account of the incident and the final report of the investigators will be made public.

justice." Labour, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and Sinn Féin this morning renewed their calls for the establishment of an independent Garda Ombudsman following violent scenes on Monday.

Mr Derek McDowell, Labour’s finance spokesman, said he would have "little confidence" in an internal Garda investigation into allegations of police brutality, as promised yesterday by the Minister for Justice.

No group should be asked to investigate itself, Mr McDowell argued, particularly when those conducting the inquiry would be dealing with serious allegations against their colleagues.

"It is simply not fair to senior gardai to ask them to investigate their own people because inevitably they start with a prejudice and an understanding of where their own people are coming from," he said.

"On the face of it, it appears to be a serious failure in policing," he said, adding that there was "at least prima facieevidence of indiscipline by individual gardaí."

Labour leader Mr Ruairí Quinn said the disturbances were allowed to get "out of hand".

"The scenes on Dame Street show up poor management, poor equipment and poor discipline among gardaí, which put both demonstrators and gardaí at risk," he said.

Ms Liz O’Donnell of the Progressive Democrats declared her party was not satisfied with the promise by its Government partners for an inquiry.

"We have all along said, and it is in our manifesto, that a Garda Ombudsman needs to be set up," the Dublin South TD said. "It’s not appropriate for the Gardaí to be investigating themselves."

She did say, however, that they were an unarmed police force who faced an increasingly difficult task and deserved public support. She also defended the right to peaceful public protest.

The Fine Gael leader Mr Michael Noonan also voiced his support for the Garda Inquiry, saying he was "confident" it would be conducted without prejudice.

"Anyone that saw the film on the television last night couldn't be but disturbed," Mr Noonan said. "First of all there seemed to be an over-use of batons in an indiscriminate way on the people seen on television. "Secondly the lack of identification on some of the gardai was something which is disturbing."

He also called for a Garda Ombudsman to be appointed.

Sinn Féin demanded Government action on the action s of the Gardaí, calling for "real accountabilty" for the police force.