Policing Authority questions ‘push back’ of counter-demonstrators at anti-mask protest

Garda Commissioner to be asked about impact of officer’s actions on right to demonstrate

Anti-facemask protest in Dublin.  Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Anti-facemask protest in Dublin. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

The Policing Authority is to question the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about gardaí who allegedly “pushed back” counter-demonstrators as they attempted to protest against an anti-mask rally in Dublin last month.

It has also emerged more than 30,000 inspections were carried out on pubs between July 3rd and last Friday, September 11th.

Some 60 per cent of the pubs visited were recorded as “closed”, according to the latest report by the Policing Authority on the Garda’s policing operation during the pandemic.

On the issue of the Garda’s actions at the anti-mask protest at Customs House Quay on August 22nd, at which four people were arrested, the authority said it would question Mr Harris about whether the actions of some gardaí prevented the counter-demonstrators from exercising their right to public protest.

In the report, under a section titled ‘Policing to protect and respect human rights’, the authority said it was “aware of recent violent confrontations between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators at the anti-mask rally” .

It was also aware of “allegations that the Garda Síochána pushed the counter-demonstrators back in an attempt to prevent further violence, which had the effect of preventing the counter-protesters from exercising their right to protest”.

The authority said it would “explore the issue in more depth with the commissioner” at its next public meeting with Mr Harris and his team.

Before the anti-mask rally, a group of counter-protesters gathered at the junction of Butt Bridge and Customs House Quay, with some remaining at that location and others making their way inside the cordon where the rally was taking place.

There were clashes inside the cordon between a group of people attending the rally and a small number of the counter-protesters, two of whom were injured. Some of those involved in the clashes were armed with sticks or batons.

Video footage also emerged of Garda members pushing a group of counter-protesters back at the entrance to the rally site at Butt Bridge, in an apparent bid to prevent them entering the site.

Spithoods

The authority, which is the main Garda oversight body, has also insisted the review of spithoods currently under way must not be used to justify their continued use beyond the Covid-19 policing operation.

It said the hoods - which are placed over the heads of suspects to prevent them spitting at gardai after their arrest - had been used five times on children and in other cases used on vulnerable people, including those with perceived mental health issues. The authority had also contacted the distributors of the hoods to ask questions.

“The distributors stated that the anti-spit hoods have not been tested for their capacity to prevent airborne or respiratory droplets which spread Covid-19,” the authority said.

In the early weeks of the pandemic policing operation, the hoods were being used up to 15 or 16 times per week and last month they were used between once and there times per week.

Elsewhere in the report, the authority praised the Garda’s response to the spike in domestic violence during the pandemic - which it dubbed “the double pandemic”.

It said NGOs working with victims had noted a very significant change for the better in the Garda’s approach to victims and to understanding the dynamics of the violence and other forms of coercive control. There had even been examples of gardaí recognising coercive control when investigating gangland crime.

Furthermore, despite concerns the initial response to domestic violence under Operation Faoiseamh may diminish in time, there had been no evidence of that. There had instead been a “paradigm shift” in the “increased pervasiveness of good practice”.

However, there were still some concerns about how some gardaí dealt with offenders who breached protection orders taken out against them by members of their own family.

“Concerns were expressed too as to the level of support available when the victim is a member of the Garda Síochána,” the authority noted.