Social Affairs Correspondent
A controversial anti water-charges protest in Jobstown, Dublin four years ago which resulted in six protestors being charged with false imprisonment, is referenced in an international report on best practise in policing protests.
The report, from the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations was published in Geneva on Wednesday.
It cites the importance of both Garda video footage and protestors’ phone footage of events on 15th November 2014, in the eventual acquittal of the protestors.
During the incident then Tánaiste Joan Burton and her assistant, Karen O’Connell were prevented from leaving the area for a number of hours.
The six men, including Paul Murphy TD (Solidarity) were found not guilty of false imprisonment in June 2017 after an eight-week trial.
The report says police forces must protect the recording of protests and demonstrations as an “essential element of transparency and open engagement” between the State and citizens.
“States have attempted to place limits of peoples’ right to record public events and police conduct by enacting legislation or retaliating through threats, arrests or the use of force when people record public officials . . .These practices undermine not only freedom of expression and basic security of protestors and the public...but impoverish public debate and frustrate public accountability.”
On Jobstown acquittals it says: “The viewing of video footage from police sources and from protestors was seen as having a significant impact”.
The report, Defending Dissent: Towards State Practices That Protect and Promote the Rights to Protest, looks at best and problematic practice in policing across the world.
“Dissent and the ability to publicly express beliefs and opinions are essential to democracy,” it says. “International law has identified six legal principles that should guide and inform State engagement with protest and public assembly – legality, precaution, necessity, proportionality, accountability and non-discrimination.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is referenced for best practise on representative policing, record-keeping and reporting on the use of force, its Police Ombudsman and its legislative underpinning in the 2000 Police Act.
“Achieving a representative policing institution requires taking significant intentional steps to change established patterns,” it says.
In 2001 the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the North was comprised of 8.3 per Catholics. By 2010 the PSNI was 29.4 per cent Catholic after changes to recruitment process whereby 50 per cent of appointments are made to Catholic applicants.
Following the peace process concerted steps were taken to ensure the incorporation of human rights into every aspect of policing, including the recording and reporting of use of force – including use of handcuffs, limb restraints, deployment of water cannon and use of firearms - and stop-and-search powers. Statistics are published every six months.
The Police Act 2000 specifically references human rights, obliging the PSNI to “protect human rights and secure the support of the whole community”, while the Police Ombudsman of NI “provides a good example of effective and independent oversight”.