The Irish Times view on protests at politicians’ homes: the State’s values must be protected

The perpetrators of the ugly scenes outside Roderic O’Gorman’s home are contemptuous of democratic values as well as of basic standards of civility

The sinister sight of masked men erecting banners bearing far-right slogans on Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman’s home last week has returned the question of policing such incidents to the forefront of public conversation.

The spectacle has been widely condemned. Correctly describing it as “vile and repulsive”, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee indicated she will examine new laws that could make protesting outside the homes of politicians illegal.

There is some debate over whether such laws are necessary. There also appears to be confusion over the extent of the powers already available to gardaí and when these should be deployed. In an internal guidance note, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris advised that it was incumbent on members of the force to respond “appropriately and adequately”. The Commissioner added that the use of posters outside homes could constitute harassment. Gardaí, he said, must apply their existing decision-making model, with particular regard to the impact of protesters’ actions on householders, their families and neighbours.

At the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual conference this week, there was some pushback to those comments. GRA members who had been present at the incident said videos that appeared to show gardaí not intervening were deliberately misleading.


The objective of those who stage spectacles of this sort is clear. They hope to drive a wedge between politicians and the people who elect them. They will manipulate any recordings they make of their actions in pursuit of that goal. Such images should be treated with deep scepticism.

There is a long-standing tradition in Irish life that public figures, including politicians, feel able to interact freely with their local communities without concern for their personal safety. An equally positive tradition exists of policing by consent without recourse to the confrontational approach to public order which characterises some other European countries. Both traditions should be cherished and protected, along with the right to peaceful, legitimate protest.

But Ireland is not immune to international trends which have seen a brutalisation of political discourse, including harassment, physical threats, assaults and even murder. The Government and the Garda will almost certainly need to recalibrate their security strategy in response to these worrying developments. If that requires legislation, so be it. But all involved should be alert to the dangers of overreach. It is clear from their actions that the perpetrators of the ugly scenes outside Roderic O’Gorman’s home are contemptuous of democratic values as well as of basic standards of civility. In pushing back against their poisonous activities, the State must ensure that its own standards and values are maintained.