‘Very simple answer’ needed on legality of wearing balaclavas at protests, Simon Harris says

Taoiseach tells Dáil that he is exploring issue and if legal, then law needs to be changed

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said a “very simple answer” is needed about whether it is legal or not for people to wear masks and balaclavas at protests.

Mr Harris has asked Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to look at the issue, as well as new laws that could make protesting outside the homes of politicians illegal.

The Taoiseach said he is “exploring” the legality of people wearing masks and balaclavas at protests. If it is legal, then the law should be changed, and if it is illegal, “why is it not being stopped”, Mr Harris said.

The Taoiseach was responding in the Dáil to Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart who asked what the legal position was after the demonstration last week by masked and balaclava-wearing protesters outside the home of Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman.


Asking if there is a legal position on the issue, Mr Lahart said: “How does the Taoiseach view it? Is the Government minded to look at that? I cannot think of any good reason aside from a pandemic why someone would want to cover their face in a public protest or place.”

Mr Harris said he was “exploring this issue”. “If the view of society is that people should not be able to turn up masked outside people’s homes – anybody’s home – in this country, we need to know a very simple answer as legislators,” Mr Harris said.

“Is that legal now? If it is, let us fix it and change the law. If it is not legal, why is it not being stopped? I have asked the Minister for Justice to come back to me on that.”

At the protest last week, anti-immigrant posters were placed outside Mr O’Gorman’s home and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the use of posters in this way could constitute a form of harassment “and/or threatening and abusive conduct”.

In an internal guidance note issued to gardaí last week the commissioner said there are “fine judgments” to be made, but gardaí need to respond to such incidents “appropriately and adequately”. He also said the wearing of balaclavas in particular has “potentially sinister overtures in Ireland”.

“Such behaviours and actions should inform the assessment of the proportionate and appropriate response of Gardaí,” the commissioner said.

“There is an imperative to protect citizens from such behaviours in circumstances where it gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminality. Secondly, there is a duty to investigate such incidents thoroughly.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times