Police criticised for abetting the use of force to remove housing protestors

Peaceful Assembly

On 11th September 2018, members of An Garda Síochana (the Irish police service) helped private security guards to evict a group of peaceful protesters occupying a vacant building in Dublin's city centre. Both police and the private security guards wore balaclavas during the operation. The protest had been organised by Take Back the City (TBTC) to raise awareness of a crisis brought about by a shortage of housing in the country. The mobilisation of police and private security contractors was described by TBTC as “a heavy-handed overreaction”. The private security contractors were also criticised by groups involved in the protests and human rights NGOs for failing to wear identification.

According to TBTC, police failed to protect the peaceful protesters from the physical force deployed by the security guards. Four people were hospitalised and five were arrested.

A spokesperson for the police commented to the Journal.ie: 

“The eviction itself was peaceful. However, a large crowd gathered on the street and five people, one woman and four men, were subsequently arrested for public order offences and assaults on garda members”.

Liam Herrick from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said

“In order to uphold the democratic right to protest, police services must have procedures that force them to pause and evaluate the consequences for rights protection at each step of planning and executing protest engagement. Police officers must be trained, not just at the beginning of their careers but on an ongoing basis, on communication, dialogue, and de-escalation strategies. Transparency is essential. After every protest, the public must receive full information about the strategies used and their impact on individuals.”

Amnesty International called for an investigation into the reports of excessive force used against demonstrators.

Demonstrations on the housing crisis are becoming larger and more frequent across the country. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which was one of the organisers of the Raise the Roof protest in early October 2018 in front of the Irish parliament, expects the mobilisation will continue to grow as the government struggles to keep up with the increasing demand for housing.

Stephen Kinsella, a professor at the University of Limerick told VICE News:

“[The protestors] are trying to counter a failure of housing policy with large-scale demonstrations, and the result of that is goons in balaclavas being guarded by police in balaclavas, which is extraordinary.”

Reacting to reports that threats were made on social media against police officers involved in the eviction, Minister of Justice Charlie Flanagan said that he would support a ban on the filming of police on duty. ICCL condemned the statement, raising concerns about the impact the measure would have on freedom of expression. Their statement highlighted the importance of this type of citizen journalism for ensuring transparency and accountability of police operations during assemblies. They said the measure would "criminalise ordinary members of the public for sharing information about public events".

Association

In early October 2018, the NGO Equate revealed that it had been targeted by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) through allegations that it had failed to comply with provisions of Ireland's Electoral Act. Equate's experience is the latest in a series of cases concerning restrictions on NGO funding for "political purposes", which also includes Equal Education and the Irish branch of Amnesty International. All of these NGOs have been asked to return funding which the Irish regulator believes breaches Irish law because it was used for activities which fall within a broad definition of "political purposes" contained in Ireland's electoral laws.

The publicity around Equate's case coincided with the launch of a new campaign on civil society freedom in Ireland. On 11th October 2018, a coalition of Irish NGOs launched a new campaign to have this provision of the Electoral Act repealed, such that the definition of "political purposes" is limited to "any campaign conducted with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome" at an election or referendum, and other "political" activities such as campaigning for public policy change or human rights would not be captured by the Act. The coalition's position was discussed during a launch event in Dublin on 11th October 2018 during which the majority of CSOs present expressed a strong desire to repeal the Act. During the event, representatives of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and CIVICUS also provided an international perspective on the situation in Ireland. 

Expression

At the end of August 2018, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection launched a controversial tender, seeking a company to monitor and analyse keywords on social media and "provide analysis to the department in email updates or digests".

The decision was harshly criticised by freedom of expression groups. Elizabeth Farries form ICCL told the Journal.ie: 

“There is no indication that the Department intends to anonymise the details they collect. If not, they must comply with the [General Data Protection Regulation] GDPR which by default requires that only personal data necessary for a specific purpose be collected, processed, and stored”. 

The organisation also raised worries of a possible “chilling effect” on social media users.