Law on how private security firms carry out High Court orders to be examined
Minister says gardaí need support from public ’not intimidation or abuse’
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told the Dáil the purpose of the Garda presence at an eviction in Dublin was ‘to keep the peace and facilitate a peaceful protest and the enforcement of an order of the High Court’. Photograph: Jack Power
The Department of Justice is to examine the law in relation to the execution of High Court orders by private security firms, Charlie Flanagan has told the Dáil.
The Minister for Justice was responding to questions about the incident in North Frederick Street in Dublin when activists were evicted from an unlived-in property by a private security firm carrying out a High Court order, with gardaí in attendance.
Mr Flanagan told TDs that initially a small number of community gardaí were present. “As the situation evolved they were supplemented by more gardaí and then a small number of officers from the public order unity were deployed.”
He stressed that “the purpose of the Garda presence was to keep the peace and facilitate a peaceful protest and the enforcement of an order of the High Court”.
Gardaí had been criticised for wearing balaclavas at the scene as were the private security officers.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has acknowledged that it was not correct for gardaí to wear balaclavas and has ordered a report to see what lessons could be learned.
Mr Flanagan said the Commissioner had said gardaí should have been wearing helmets with the balaclavas.
But he said gardaí were subjected to sustained abuse including in one incident racist abuse. “I condemn this behaviour and I’m sure all members of the House will do likewise.”
A matter for the courts
He said that “where behaviour crosses the line into criminality it may be investigated but it would be preferable if the crime didn’t occur in the first place” and he appealed to those involved in protests “to recognise that gardaí simply doing their jobs should not be targeted in this way”.
Mr Flanagan said any dispute about the enforcement of a court order is solely a matter for the courts. “Accordingly the persons involved in the execution of the High Court order are not licensable by the Private Security Authority at present.
“My officials are currently examining the law governing this area and I am giving the matter further consideration.”
Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said he agreed 100 per cent that gardaí should not be targeted by protestors “but gardaí should not have been exposed to this. I would like to know who sent them there”.
Independent TD Joan Collins described the incident as “very sinister” and asked why gardaí believed it necessary to “send out a Garda riot squad, a public order unit, a Garda Transit Connect van and masked gardaí without identification numbers”.
Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said the incident had set back confidence in An Garda Síochána considerably.
The Minister stated that gardaí were only upholding the law, she said but “my neighbours’ house was broken into and when they called the guards they didn’t see a garda for love nor money”.
“That is also the job of the Garda. It chose to take sides in this instance.”
Mr Flanagan said gardaí at the protest faced a “most difficult task in managing protest and enforcing the law. There was abuse, including racial abuse” and subsequent online threats.
He said gardaí work on the public’s behalf. “They need support from the public not intimidation or abuse.”