Garda Commissioner warns protestors that they can ‘unwittingly break the law’

Garda Commissioner warns protestors that they can ‘unwittingly break the law’

Comissioner Drew Harris pictured at the AGSI conference in the Great Southern. Hotel, Killarney on Tuesday. Photo: Don MacMonagle

THE Garda Commissioner has warned people involved in protests that they can “unwittingly break the law” in their actions.

Commissioner Drew Harris was speaking in Killarney on Tuesday afternoon at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.

It followed an admission on Monday by Justice Minister Helen McEntee that she, at certain times, has felt unsafe.

There have been a number of recent incidents, including a protest outside the home of An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

He said: “We live in an open democracy. Protest is part of being in a democracy but at the same time the right to protest is also tempered by the behaviours at a protest etc and so while it might be entirely justifiable and correct to protest outside a government department, it is a different matter then to go to somebody’s home.” 

He urged anyone attending protests to “be mindful that you can unwittingly break the law in terms of your actions, in terms of what you say, that you risk then falling on the wrong side of enforcement action.” 

He said that gardaí have a wide array of powers to “make sure that breaches of the peace don’t happen and crime is prevented”.

He said there are difficult decisions for gardaí on the ground in relation to protests.

He said: “You are balancing the right to protest as well as an individual’s right to a private life and enjoy their home in peace.

"For our operational members on the ground, our sergeants and inspectors who are here, they are having to make difficult decisions how to find that balance.” 

He urged people engaged in protesting not to “break the law or engage in behaviour which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace”.

When asked if there should be safe spaces enshrined in legislation such as outside of people’s homes, Commissioner Harris said: “There is perhaps merit in that but I think we would have to carefully explore that against the right to protest. But what I would say then is that one has to wonder where the protesters would go next. There is a form of protest going on at the moment which does go to people’s homes and there is a regrettable element of that becoming very personalised and I am not sure the safe space is actually going to deal with that particular issue.”

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