By James Ward, PA
Independent TD Mattie McGrath has refused to withdraw a remark he made in the Dáil comparing policing of Covid restrictions with Nazism.
Numerous TDs claimed on Wednesday that a planned protest by taxi drivers on Thursday has been “banned” by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris – something denied by gardaí.
Raising the issue with the Taoiseach, the Tipperary TD asked “Are we going back to Nazi Hitler time?”
Micheál Martin said the remark was “disgraceful and contemptible” and called for Mr McGrath to withdraw it, which he refused to do.
We need to pull up Drew Harris. He is our Garda boss man. I don’t like the antics
“I have been contacted by taxis (drivers) from Tipperary, who were coming tomorrow in their cars. They have been wiped out with the pandemic," Mr McGrath said.
“It might be an unusual step, Ceann Comhairle, for us to raise this here. But it’s unusual times and we’re living in a totally totalitarian state, that we can’t have any protest safely in cars," he continued.
“Are we going back to Nazi Hitler time? What the hell is going on here?
“We need to pull up Drew Harris. He is our Garda boss man. I don’t like the antics.
“I support the gardaí always, but this is driving people away from supporting the gardaí and we need a debate on it here.”
The Taoiseach responded: “I would ask that Deputy McGrath withdraw the remarks that he made, and he should withdraw them, when he referred to Nazism and Hitler.
“I think that is a disgraceful and contemptible remark. The gardaí have to make operational decisions.
“Those decisions, in an unarmed police force in this country that has stood us well and has served the country very well throughout the years.”
Mr McGrath interrupted the Taoiseach, saying: “That’s my opinion.”
Mr Martin responded angrily, saying Ireland has an unarmed police force that has “served us well over the years”.
He said: “That reference should be withdrawn irrespective of to whom it applies, given the appalling atrocities that Nazis committed and that Hitler committed. We are a far different country than that.
“It is not good enough that remarks like that would just slip off the tongue in condemning operational decisions that have been taken.
“It isn’t good enough for this parliament and it shouldn’t be tolerated. It should not be tolerated, because we are the one country that has been a beacon against fascism since the foundation of the state.
“We are the one country that brought in a constitution, that was radical in its time, with judicial interpretation, in the middle of the fascist era in the 30s.
“A bit of self awareness, a bit of acknowledgement of where this country has come from is due, and you should withdraw those remarks. It is not good enough.”
Mr McGrath, a member of the Rural Independents Group in the Dáil, replied: “Spare me the lecture, I will not withdraw the remarks.”
In a statement on Thursday, gardaí said they had not banned the protest, and do not have the authority to do so.
“To be clear, and as stated publicly on multiple occasions previously, An Garda Síochána has no role in licensing or approving protests. In other words, An Garda Síochána cannot ban protests” the statement said.
It said gardaí would “ask people not to organise [or] attend such protests” in line with public health advice.
“In this case, as with all planned protests that An Garda Síochána is aware of, senior Garda management in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) engaged with the groups planning this protest and those groups positively engaged with us.
“Following this engagement, it is our understanding that these groups no longer intend to go ahead with their protest. This is entirely a matter for those groups” it added.
They said there had been no enforcement action by gardaí in relation to the protests.
Numerous opposition TDs raised objections to the perceived ban on Wednesday, including members of Sinn Féin and People Before Profit.