Legal issues around protests outside politicians’ homes is ‘complex’, says Department of Justice

Comments come after latest protest by an anti-migrant and anti-Covid vaccine group at home of Taoiseach Simon Harris

When Simon Harris’s house was last targeted in May, he said people’s homes should be 'out of bounds' to protesters. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Pool/AFP via Getty

Policing operations at protests, including far right agitators gathering outside politicians’ homes, is “complex” and Garda enforcement can only happen if protesters breach the criminal law, the Department of Justice has said.

The comments come just days after the latest protest by an anti-migrant and anti-Covid vaccine group at the home of Taoiseach Simon Harris in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Although the small group that gathered outside the Harris family home dispersed within a matter of minutes, most of those present were masked.

When Mr Harris’s house was last targeted in May, he said people’s homes should be “out of bounds” to protesters as such gatherings could be “intimidating” and “upsetting”. While he made no comment on the latest protest at his home on Friday evening, Mr Harris said last month the Garda had assured him they had all the powers they needed to police such protests.

However, Senator Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil said a new Bill he had proposed would grant the gardaí the power to deal with protests – or “targeted picketing” – that specifically targeted private dwellings. He added he was “frustrated” at what he saw as delays caused by the department in the passage of his Bill through the Seanad and on to the Dáil.


“I am now urging that the Department would now allow my Bill to pass all stages in the Seanad and to go to the Dáil to be considered then by the Justice Committee,” he said of the Protection of Private Residences (Against Targeted Picketing) Bill 2021.

He described as “thugs” masked protesters gathering outside the homes of politicians, which often only served to intimidate their partners and children. Mr Harris confirmed his wife and children were at his home when the property was targeted last month.

In reply to queries, the department said the right to protest did “not extend to a right to threaten public order or cause others to fear for their safety”. However, balancing “the right to protest with protecting the public and upholding the law” was a “complex task” for gardaí.

“If that line between protesting and threatening or intimidating behaviour is crossed there are a number of provisions in our laws that apply,” the Department added. “This is not a straightforward issue to deal with, however. Balancing competing rights never is.”

It further stated that when the Bill put forward by Mr Byrne was considered in the Seanad “a number of Senators raised concerns about some of its provisions”.

It said Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was thankful to Mr Byrne and Senator Fiona O’Loughlin for “bringing this legislation forward and facilitating a discussion of these important issues”.

Mr Byrne has been critical of the Department of Justice for delaying the progress of his Bill by requesting the Oireachtas Justice Committee to review it before it was allowed to pass through the Seanad.

Last week Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, the chair of the Justice Committee, replied to Ms McEntee informing her office both he and the committee were supportive of the aims of the Bill. He said it should be allowed to proceed further through the Oireachtas before the committee would review it.

The pre-Committee scrutiny process, he said, could only be undertaken when the Bill had concluded its passage through the Seanad.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times