A chara, – Following the events outside Leinster House last week, the Minister for Justice has suggested that the Offences Against the State Acts may be the appropriate law to use to combat such violence (“McEntee wants to use anti-terror legislation to prevent future intimidation by far-right protesters”, News, September 23rd). The Irish Council for Civil Liberties believes that invoking counter-terrorism powers in this context would be a counter-productive overreaction to the violent acts of a small group who don’t enjoy any substantial public support.
The right to protest is a bedrock right in any democracy and has strong protections in Irish law. Any measure that aims to limit the right to protest must be shown as necessary in a democratic society and must represent the least invasive measure to achieve the aim of protecting the rights of others. The Garda Síochána’s review of last week’s events and the parallel reviews of Leinster House security and wider issues of politicians’ safety may well lead to recommendations on how existing criminal law should be applied more effectively.
However, we know that 13 people were arrested under public order legislation, which provides very broad powers to deal with violence at public events. A wide range of other criminal legislation is also available dealing with assault, damage to property, threats and intimidation, and incitement to violence.
Section 7 of the Offences Against the State Act permits arrests for the obstruction of government using violence or intimidation. This provision was clearly aimed at people wishing to violently interfere with the actual governance of the State, addressing situations of terrorism and threats to national security. The expanded powers of arrest, search and detention under the Act would constitute a disproportionate interference with all potential protesters’ rights to privacy, liberty and to freedom of expression. In anticipation of the various reviews currently ongoing, leaping to the nuclear option of a counter-terrorism restriction on protest would be completely inappropriate. For the same reasons, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties opposes any proposals to dilute the general right to peaceful protest at the Houses of the Oireachtas or at Government Buildings. Our response to the actions of a small number of extremists cannot be to diminish the constitutional rights of ordinary people.
In arguing against excessive suppression of protest, we do not underestimate the seriousness of last week’s events. Targeted violence and intimidation against politicians, journalists and public servants are serious crimes and should be dealt with as such. As well as ensuring we have the most appropriate and proportionate criminal justice response to far-right violence, we also need to examine much more closely the nature of these groups who seek to undermine our democracy and society through messages of hate which are fuelled by conspiracy theories. We also need to challenge the social media platforms and those public figures who enable and support these groups, particularly in their targeting of refugees, the LGBTQ+ community and other minoritised groups. – Yours, etc,
for Civil Liberties,
Sir, – Una Mullally claims that Solidarity/People Before Profit is the political entity which has most consistently countered the appalling behaviour displayed in Kildare Street last week (“Why weren’t warnings about the far-right threat taken seriously?”, Opinion & Analysis, September 25th).
Perhaps, but maybe the people involved, who trapped, abused and threatened TDs, were only taking their lead from that same entity she praises. She seems to forget that some members hurled water balloons and eggs at Joan Burton and her adviser in 2014, before trapping them in their car while banging on it and shouting abuse at them.
As Ms Burton said, “You wonder in times like that where this hate is coming from.”
Not much has changed in nine years, it seems. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Is it not amazing how semantics can charge the whole meaning of a protest?
Those whose protests are for alleged liberal ideals such as Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion, or whatever, are seen as warriors yet those who may be for maintaining conservative ideals are seen as far-right extremists who must therefore be dealt with. We do not call those we support extremists, even though their actions such as blocking roads, throwing dye or defacing buildings are extreme in their execution.
Both take sides that the other is against yet we choose to name-call those that we do not like. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Very ugly scenes took place outside the Dáil last week. These ugly scenes have been rightly attributed to members of the far right. However, the impact of that term, and the impact that condemnations have on these protesters, and on the general public, will have been significantly weakened by the way in which the term “far right” is thrown around like snuff at a wake. This term is used by members of our media and also by many of our politicians and is often aimed at people who are not far right, but who have committed the unforgivable sin of not following the precepts of the liberal classes.
If the politicians want to weaken the far right, the answer is not to clamp down on their rights, but to listen to the electorate, not all of whom adhere to the same political beliefs as those sitting in Dáil Éireann. Listening to legitimate concerns and addressing them will weaken the far right. – Yours, etc,
Baile Átha Buí,
Co na Mí.