Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Public Order Offences: Statements (Resumed).

 

7:00 pm

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na TeachtaíÓ Snodaigh, Harkin agus Cowley.

It was with profound sadness that I heard on Saturday about the appalling hatred shown and the vitriolic attacks on marchers from Northern Ireland who came to demonstrate in peace in Dublin. It is ironic that the demonstration took place less than one month before a festive march where Irish people will celebrate their identity will take place in London as part of the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. That will be, as in the past, a joyous and tolerant occasion. One does not expect in a civilised city to witness the level of violence and intolerance against marchers that we saw on Saturday. Certainly, we do not expect to witness the appalling and shameful levels of violence shown against the Garda Síochána.

It is clear there was a level of ill-preparedness for this violence. The lack of participation in this debate by Government Deputies is also worrying. I am concerned that this demonstrates a level of disinterest or a lack of confidence in the Minister. The Minister needs to reflect seriously on the issue to learn lessons for the future from this debacle.

The march was not provocative to most of our people and was welcomed by the Dublin City Business Association. The Garda, because it did not have intelligence on the issue, was lured into a false sense of security. I acknowledge it bent over backwards to protect the marchers when things turned ugly. There were some appalling injuries, but the situation could have been much worse. I offer my sympathy and that of the Green Party to members of the force who were injured or endangered and my admiration for their bravery in the course of duty in holding the line.

As a Protestant in the South, I say to Northern Protestants who hear how these visitors to Dublin were greeted that sectarianism is not a feature of this State. It is important we send that message. However, there is a difference between an absence of sectarianism and a proactive inclusiveness and this State has more to do in this regard. We have a ceasefire and a peace process, but we have not moved on sufficiently nor quickly enough. Saturday was a clear demonstration of how far we still have to go.

Educate Together schools, ecumenical acts of worship at particular historic junctures and gestures such that in my parish where the use of the Church of Ireland church is given to the Roman Catholic community while repairs are taking place on its church or that in Inisbiggle in Mayo, where there is a similar situation are important gestures that build confidence and cross-community understanding. The Government has not moved sufficiently far towards developing a civic forum following on the Good Friday Agreement. This is something we need and Saturday's events demonstrate how urgent the need is.

I urge the Minister to take account of the fact that gardaí feel under-resourced. As a result, there is low morale among many of the gardaí I know and this is reflected in the smaller numbers of gardaí in my area than in 1998. I hope the Minister takes this on board and does not sweep it under the carpet.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Those who acted disgracefully on the streets of our capital city on Saturday were not republicans. They were, in the main, a crowd of thugs, many of them fuelled with drink. Those among them who claimed to be political simply dismissed the national flag and ran riot with criminal elements. Sinn Féin clearly and repeatedly called on people to ignore Saturday's march. Our members and supporters did so.

I do not know to what march in O'Connell Street Deputy Crawford referred, but it was not a Sinn Féin Easter commemoration. Article 40 of the 1937 Constitution enshrines the right of citizens to assemble and to freely express their opinion as fundamental personal rights. There is now a real danger that the events of last Saturday may be used to curtail this right to protest.

The right to march down O'Connell Street is of special significance to Irish political activists. Last Saturday must be seen in perspective. The protest in support of Irish Ferries workers last December and Sinn Féin's rally for Irish unity demonstration in November saw up to 100,000 and 20,000 people, respectively, march peacefully down O'Connell Street. Those who rioted and those who would exploit the events of riots to serve their own interest must not be allowed to undermine the fundamental right of democrats. It is, therefore, correct that the motion to be put before the House reaffirms the right to peaceful protests and demonstrations.

There are questions to be answered by the Minister and Garda management. Was there a request from the officer in charge for additional gardaí to be made available to the area for Saturday's march and was this request turned down? Make no mistake about it, full responsibility lies with those who engaged in violent actions in our capital city.

On behalf of Sinn Féin and all Dubliners, I express my appreciation to Dublin City Council workers who impressively cleaned up the affected streets in a matter of hours. I record Sinn Féin's support for the agreed motion before us.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution on the issue of the riots in Dublin last Saturday. Like most people, I watched the television images with a mixture of utter disbelief and increasing anger. I was angry when I saw rioters and thugs hurl missiles at gardaí and bystanders, while some of those same thugs were wrapped in our national flag. I thought: how dare they abuse our national flag? How dare they flaunt the tricolour while, at the same time, attacking the institutions and citizens of the State?

Those who wrapped themselves in the flag last Saturday do not represent the vast majority of Irish people. Some Irish people supported the march, some did not, while others were indifferent but they were prepared to live and let live. It was almost unreal to see the television images of burning cars, looters and rioters throwing slabs of concrete at gardaí. While I fully applaud the many gardaí who put themselves in the line of fire without proper safety equipment and thought for themselves, who safely shepherded the marchers and many onlookers out of danger, the question must be answered as to whether the people of Dublin and Ireland can be reasonably sure this will not happen again.

The Minister has said he is not personally responsible for decisions taken on a day-to-day basis by the policing authority. I accept this. Nonetheless, he is politically responsible and must bear responsibility for the fact that last Saturday Dublin burned.

Perhaps there is one small positive to be taken from all of this. The massive level of condemnation heard is already robbing the thugs of their power. Most significantly, many in the Republic have contacted ordinary people in the North to express their anger and outrage. In the final analysis, what ordinary people say to one another is just as important as, if not more important, than what politicians say.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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Any right-minded person would have no hesitation in condemning outright the thuggery that took place in Dublin on Saturday. As someone who has organised a number of marches in recent times, I have nothing but respect and admiration for gardaí and how they conducted themselves. The viciousness and mindless violence directed against reporters, including Mr. Charlie Bird, and gardaí shocked everybody. I am sure that in time the identity of those involved in organising this shameful episode will become clear. I wish the Garda Síochána every success in its investigation.

I was sorry to see so many gardaí injured. I am sure some may be entitled to compensation because of the severity of the injuries they received on this black Saturday. How would the Minister's proposed Garda reserve force have coped in this situation? How would people who have just spent a wet week training be able to cope with such violence and thuggery? I do not think they would have coped very well and I am sure the psychological scars that would have been left on those reserves, not to mention physical scars, would have been monstrous compared to the greater resilience of the highly trained and experienced gardaí who coped very well while under savage attack. The reserves would have been forced to retreat.

It is always difficult to predict when an event such as last Saturday's will turn nasty. We must remember the thousands of peaceful marches that have taken place and been managed effectively and well by the Garda Síochána. We cannot allow one black Saturday to force the Garda Síochána to arm itself to such a degree that it becomes intimidating to peaceful protestors. Nor can we allow the State to interfere with the right of people to protest peacefully because of the behaviour of a couple of thugs. Whatever they were trying to do and whoever they were, they brought nothing but disgrace to themselves and their cause.

The Love Ulster campaign had every right to protest peacefully and no one who is reasonable would dispute that right. What happened last Saturday was in total contrast to how peaceful protests should be conducted such as those by the Rossport Five and the Shell to Sea Campaign. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, made comments in the Dáil recently about intimidation and bullying but the only bullying taking place is by Shell and the Government in trying to force through a unique and dangerous pipeline carrying raw gas at unacceptably high pressure.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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For the benefit of the House, we are 15 minutes over the allotted time for this debate and are supposed to conclude at 7.40 p.m. The Minister proposes we have half an hour for questions and ten minutes——

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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If there is half an hour for questions, I am happy with that.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister agree the arrangements put in place last Saturday were inadequate for such a highly political event, given that it has now emerged that we had a helicopter that did not fly between the relevant times of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., a water cannon that was across the Border and unavailable and an inadequate number of gardaí who were put in the front line without adequate personal protection or backup? In such a situation the inevitable consequence was that gardaí were exposed to injury or worse. A number were injured, as were some citizens and members of the media. There was also a lot of damage done to businesses. In that situation would the Minister agree that, from the point of view of the Garda report, it is hardly fair to the Garda Síochána to expect it to produce an independent analysis, particularly bearing in mind the need to plan for the future? Does he agree there is merit in the proposal made by Fine Gael, that we have a small independent group — not necessarily the names I mentioned, whom I merely put forward as examples — to analyse the situation, quickly produce a report and allow us to learn lessons from what happened last Saturday and try to ensure we never see its like again?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I have total confidence in the leadership of the Garda Síochána. They made decisions on the basis of their professional experience. They have reported to me and I have reported to the House that they did not anticipate that a group of 200 or 300 people would come to disrupt the event in the way they did. Garda management made a decision about the nature of policing. It decided that it should be a soft cap event and that it would keep the public order unit, colloquially known as the riot squad, in reserve. These were decisions made in good faith and on the basis of many years' experience.

People are saying that somehow the buck stops with me. I am politically accountable for the policing function in this State but in saying that, if we had accepted the alternative view, proposed by some in Opposition, that we should have a police authority, I would be sitting here with my arms folded saying, "I have no response to make to any of you. Go and ask the chairman of the police authority what happened." However, since I am Minister, responsible in a democratic assembly, I attest that we entrust to the Garda Síochána professional judgement, expertise and give it discretion as to how it conducts such an event. I stand by it and do not dump on it in public just because something unexpected happens.

I ask the House to accept that there is no suggestion whatsoever that the Garda Síochána did not put time into preparing for this event, was careless, sent out young men and women as canon fodder for people whom it expected to turn up or in any way acted carelessly. The record which I put before the House shows that the Garda Síochána spent weeks preparing for the event and took a view on the matter. I do not dump on it.

It should be said on the floor of the House that when the Commissioner and deputy commissioner went to visit Garda stations afterwards to thank the gardaí who had been involved in these events, they were cheered to the echo and received a standing ovation for their on the ground, hands-on approach to what had happened on that day. There are people here who are saying gardaí on the street were let down by management but that most certainly was not the view on Saturday evening.

Deputy Cowley came up with what I consider to be a very inane point, namely, how reservists would have coped. Perhaps he would put his thinking cap on for once in his life and ask whether it would be sensible to bring gardaí from Blackrock, Kill o' the Grange and Cabinteely into Dublin to reinforce their colleagues in the city centre and for a reservist in the local area, a skilled and trained person, to stand in for them for the afternoon behind the station counter. Perhaps he would think about this before he speaks in future. While he is on the subject, perhaps he would consider how it is that in Britain its police forces have to deal with riots and nobody at that stage says it should not have a reserve. One can make good points and bad points in the House but that is one of the worst points I have heard.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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The Minister——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please allow the Minister to continue.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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Deputy Kehoe said this was a matter of resources. It most certainly was not a matter of resources. There was no question of any downward pressure on the officers who made the decision in this case not to deploy resources. In the course of consultations I asked about helicopters and water cannons. I am satisfied they were all considered carefully by the gardaí who made the decisions. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I do not micromanage the way in which the Garda carries out its affairs. I had no hand, act or part in its preparation for this event. I am not saying that to wash my hands of it. I am saying it would be improper if I, from the vastness of St. Stephen's Green, was to say this should be a hard hat helmet event not a soft cap event or vice versa. If I had got it wrong and had intervened in those circumstances the Deputies opposite would ask what I was doing by intervening in this way and they would ask me to take personal responsibility for the error of my ways.

It is not my function and I have never once offered advice to the Garda Commissioner or the regional commissioners as to how they should discharge their functions. I do not do that. It is foolish, in this House, to claim that the Minister sits there working out the response or what preparations should be made for President Bush's visit to Ireland, the May Day events, the St. Patrick's Day events or the Easter parade. I do not do those kind of things. We have a Garda Síochána which has a Commissioner, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners. Members have a clear record of who did what and why they did it, what they knew and what they did not know. It is time we resisted the temptation to dump on them and that we remember who were the people who caused the mayhem. It was not the Garda or its management but the perpetrators.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Nobody on this side of the House is dumping on the Garda. We have acknowledged just how heroic the Garda was on the streets of Dublin. There is no doubt that what happened in Dublin was an appalling disaster. In the Garda report——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Deputy please confine himself to questions. There are many members offering and members had an opportunity to make a statement earlier.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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——it appears the Garda had no knowledge in regard to the matter. It seems strange, as the Minister said, that the top brass was praised to the rafters and the representative body for the rank and file was straight into the breach to condemn what had taken place. Presumably there is some contact between the rank and file and their leaders. Will the Minister clarify how the initial request for the march took place? Was it that William Frazer, as the background document report states, contacted Pearse Street Garda station on 8 December 2005? That is the contact with the Garda, but what political contact was made? To whom was contact made and why did he go to Pearse Street Garda station rather than any other Garda station to contact the Garda? Why was the particular route chosen considering its potential for serious conflict and the absolute impossibility of maintaining a secure route there? Why was the particular date and time chosen, a busy Saturday afternoon on a match day? Having been present for a period I was there when the helicopter flew over at approximately 4.15 p.m. after more than three hours of rampaging through the streets. Can the Minister say where the helicopter was and where it experienced the difficulties? Did it experience difficulties in taking off to come to Dublin? I had thought the helicopter was located in the vicinity of Dublin.

I will not dwell on the equipment except to say I saw a large number of young female gardaí totally unprotected with any form of headgear on the street for up to three hours. Questions have to be asked about that type of policing. It certainly appeared to be ill-prepared and ill-equipped. Will the Minister agree there is a need for a broader investigation than an internal Garda investigation? The Minister set up the Ombudsman Commission for the purpose of looking into matters where there were serious questions arising in regard to Garda activities. Given that there was so much danger to life and limb of the marchers and of the citizenry and much property damaged, which has done irreparable damage to our reputation abroad, it is time to put in place an independent investigation that will look at the broader circumstances of what happened, how it happened and why we ended up with a debacle in O'Connell Street.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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The Deputy asked what political contact there had been and how the Love Ulster rally came into being. There was no contact, of which I am aware, with my Department or politically at any level prior to the arrangements made with the Garda Síochána. The first time I became aware of a proposed march of this kind was when the The Sunday Tribune ran a rather fanciful front page story in which it was stated I was the hero of the organisers and that they hoped I would attend a forthcoming rally. At that stage, according to the article, they were planning to have it in early February. I do not know what arrangements they had but they never came next or near me.

I was on "Questions and Answers" to meetJeffrey Donaldson. I received a letter from him asking me if I could see him after the march on that occasion. Prior to that I had no involvement or hand, act or part in the decision of the people——

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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No political——

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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None that I know of at any level. I have never heard of any Governmental involvement. I think the organisers took it up directly with the Garda. I do not know why they went to Pearse Street Garda station. I had no hand, act or part nor had my Department or any of my colleagues, as far as I know. Saturday, 4 February, was the original date they had in mind. So far as I know, there was no political contact by them with the authorities in Dublin in any shape or form. On the issue of the route——

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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In a march of that nature——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask Deputy Costello to allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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A couple of years ago I heard of a proposal, when Mary Freehill was the Lord Mayor, for a march in Dawson Street and again there was no contact with me.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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That——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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In fairness to the Deputy's colleagues in the House, he had an opportunity to make his contribution and he had five minutes to ask a question.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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As to the route chosen, as the Deputy will see from the report from the Garda Síochána, the original application of the FAIR group was to assemble in O'Connell Street and march to the Dáil. They were told by the Garda Síochána that it was customary when having a political demonstration in Dublin to use Parnell Square as the assembly point and to move from there to the Dáil. That is the only significant input the Garda had in regard to the projected route of the march.

On the Deputy's point about gardaí not having helmets and the like available to them, a decision was made which is clearly documented in the material I provided for the House that the public order unit would be kept in reserve and that the ordinary uniform would be worn by gardaí escorting the parade. That is the explanation as I understand it.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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They were not withdrawn.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry, Deputy, but other Deputies are entitled to put questions.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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No decision was made to withdraw gardaí from the front line, if that is what is being suggested. Rather, the public order unit was brought in.

The decisions made are fully documented in the material I have supplied to the House and I will not dump on the competence of those who made them. They were made in good faith and those concerned have handled many demonstrations in their time. I adopt fully the words of the agreed motion to the effect that gardaí behaved in a fair and proportionate way. One Member has stated that perhaps gardaí should have used more force. However, if they had baton charged much more extensively than they did and if they had done so earlier, perhaps many would be complaining that they were collateral innocent victims who were just present to see what was happening and that gardaí assaulted them as part of a security sweep to deal with those causing trouble.

Let us remember that, as far as I know, there has not been one single story or complaint to the effect that gardaí over-reacted, assaulted a single individual or went for one journalist or bystander. They acted with remarkable restraint, discipline and professionalism. Let us stand up and say this is good rather than bad.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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The questions I want to ask are designed to elicit facts. The Garda is to be commended for preventing the circumstances from becoming even worse. This must be acknowledged.

Bearing in mind that the Minister mentioned Cabinteely Garda station and other stations far from the city centre, is it not the case that gardaí were drafted in at very short notice from Carlow, for example? Within what radius did the authorities search for available gardaí? I met some of the walking wounded near their stations in Santry on Saturday night and suggested to them Santry was far from the city centre, but they stated gardaí had to be drafted in from as far away as Carlow.

The Minister has mentioned there was no prior notice in the Garda reports of a riot being in preparation. This is somewhat contradictory, given that litter bins in the city centre were sealed at the weekend, presumably to prevent the placement of litter bin bombs, for example. I appreciate the benefit of hindsight in stating various building materials in the city centre should really have been removed and that the city council had a job to do in that regard. Was there a breakdown in this matter or was the information available only partial? If sealing litter bins was considered wise, why was the ammunition on the building site not removed?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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That is a good question. The Deputy will note from the material supplied that the question of the building materials on the works on O'Connell Street had been the subject of six separate meetings between the Garda and city council officials. The Garda stressed throughout those meetings that the building materials were to be made secure. Given that the materials were made secure behind relatively light barriers, I admit it might have been an idea to deploy gardaí in or around the compound so as to prevent access thereto. However, the way in which the disorder developed was such that, at a critical moment, gardaí did not have access to the area. The time for the decision had elapsed.

We can all be wise after the event. The Garda officers, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and regional assistant commissioner are all strongly on the side of their members and do not send them into danger willingly. They prepared carefully for the event and believed they had made adequate preparation. There would never be a riot in the city of Dublin if intelligence was perfect and if the Garda response was always 100% adequate. It simply could not occur in such circumstances but we live in a world in which there are riots.

Let us not get carried away and say the whole world is looking at Ireland and asking what kind of society there is there and in its capital. There are equivalent disturbances in Paris virtually every day of the week and I do not hear people say they will not visit that city. There are disturbances in London and other places but the world does not decide their societies are in failure. The grotesque thuggery was engaged in by a small group and I believe the majority abroad will understand this.

The Ceann Comhairle, being from a Border constituency, will understand that a number of the people who came down to Dublin in buses had intended to go shopping before going home. It is sad that many of them, owing to their political persuasion, had never put a foot into this State before Saturday, although they live in Border regions. This makes me feel very sorry about the outcome of the march and their experience. I reiterate, however, that they did have their parade; they did have their meeting and their bands did play. They did so outside Leinster House. Therefore, the thugs who tried to frustrate them were not entirely successful. They got back to Northern Ireland safely.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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From how far did gardaí have to be brought?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I do not know the furthest point from which gardaí were summoned; I am not in a position to answer.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Did Garda management in Store Street make a request for additional gardaí to be made available for the march on Saturday? If so, was it turned down, as mentioned by other Deputies? Were St. John's Ambulance Brigade and other ambulance services on stand-by on the day? What were the exact instructions given to Dublin City Council regarding O'Connell Street and the building site thereon?

Did the Taoiseach share with Garda authorities his intelligence on impending trouble, which he said he had gleaned from sources on Friday night? How many rioters and protestors were on O'Connell Street?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Does the Minister find it ironic that the sectarian hooligan element deployed to prevent a demonstration by persons who had a democratic right to demonstrate should now be cited as an argument to curb the right to peaceful assembly in Dublin city centre? Does he realise that when officialdom in Dublin City Council previously attempted to curb seriously the right to protest freely and demonstrate peacefully, there was great opposition from civil groups, trade union groups and people in general? Does he recognise that the right to stage a democratic peaceful protest is not contingent on the mandarins in Dublin City Council but is a right to be enjoyed by all citizens?

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to question the Minister further. I reject totally his dismissal of my asking how the proposed Garda reserve force would function in circumstances such as those in question. Will members of the reserve force not have to deal with them? The Minister promised 2,000 extra gardaí, yet, to deal with such circumstances, we are to have 900 reserve gardaí. I have praised gardaí because of their training in Templemore, etc. Will the Minister assure the House that the reserve gardaí will have the same capabilities and resilience as gardaí who have been fully trained? Will he confirm that they will receive just a week or two of training, which contrasts with the great length of time mainstream gardaí spend training in Templemore? How can he reject my criticism of this plan, when it is clear that the proposed reserve gardaí will encounter unexpected situations such as that in Dublin last Saturday?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I will respond to Deputy Cowley's first point by reminding him that the Garda is being expanded by more than 1,000 members per annum. That has been the case for the last year and will continue to be the case for the next two years. The force will reach a total strength, of gardaí in training and fully qualified gardaí, of 14,000 by December this year. All 14,000 members will be fully attested and trained by late 2007 or early 2008.

All the points made by Deputy Cowley about the proposed Garda reserve apply equally to Britain where such arguments have been found to be entirely shallow and meaningless. I have not heard anyone suggest I should telephone my opposite number in Britain, the Home Secretary, Mr. Charles Clarke MP, to tell him that we have a brilliant new insight in Ireland and that he should disband his reserve force immediately because reservists are a danger to the proper and professional policing of society. Although I have listened carefully, I have not heard anyone come up with a single convincing argument against the establishment of a Garda reserve. My door remains open to any new arguments in that regard. I remind Deputy Cowley that the House voted by an overwhelming majority to support the creation of a Garda reserve. The Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights would be a good forum in which to test these arguments. The Deputy can attend the committee's meetings and participate in its proceedings if he likes.

Deputy Joe Higgins spoke about the right to congregate. I am aware that the majority of the members of Dublin City Council are against by-laws. I am not a member of the body, but I tend to agree with its members in this regard. I think the majority are correct because I do not know which officials at city management level — I presume the councillors would not be given the right to start handing out permits — would be deemed to be the competent deciders of who could or could not protest in the city. This proposal raises as many problems at it would address. I do not see how determining that the Rathmines and Rathgar plant breeders' association cannot parade, but the Socialist Workers' Party can could be deemed to be a management function. I do not understand the basis on which such a decision could be made. Under common law, the Garda Síochána which carries out this function is entitled to uphold the law, maintain the peace and ensure traffic continues to move. It does a good job of upholding people's constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression, in general terms. I am not aware of the adoption by the Garda in this city of a heavy-handed policy on the right of assembly and protest. I would like to see the details of a scheme that would improve the situation by giving unelected officials the right to authorise one demonstration, rather than another.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I agree with the Minister.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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Perhaps Deputy Higgins will be pleased to note that there is a point of difference on these benches in that regard.

I assure Deputy Ó Snodaigh that I am wholly unaware that anyone in Store Street Garda station asked anyone in authority for additional resources. The assistant commissioner for the Dublin area was responsible for deciding what the level of resources would be. I am not aware of the discussions he had with the station management in any area. The decision was entirely made by the Garda Síochána; it was not made by reference to whether resources were available. The Garda has been given unprecedented resources. I ask the House to remember that the force's budget increased by 13% this year, following a considerable increase last year. The Garda's overtime budget has increased substantially this year. The decision was not made by reference to a directive from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform about how money should or should not be spent. In any particular case such a decision is based on the professional judgment of senior Garda management.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister has ten minutes to conclude the debate.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank Deputies for the support they have expressed for the motion which I hope will be adopted by the House without debate at the end of this discussion. It is right that there is accountability in Parliament for what happens on our streets. It is right that a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be politically accountable to his or her colleagues in Dáil Éireann because that is what the Constitution envisages. If something goes wrong, it is right that the Minister should accept or reject this as he or she sees fit. It is not right, however, to say the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the day makes hands-on decisions, or decisions in principle, on issues on which the professional judgment of policemen is surely preferable in most cases to the political judgment of elected Ministers. Such a suggestion is factually groundless. Under our system, the Garda Síochána is given operational independence, subject under the new Act to the capacity of the Minister to make directions which are matters of public record in any particular case. The Garda Commissioner will this summer become the force's Accounting Officer and the financial controller of its annual voted resources. It is correct, when decisions are being taken on the manner in which a particular demonstration, march, parade or assembly should be policed, that the Garda should be given the discretion that reflects the professional judgment of its members.

I do not doubt that lessons will be learned from what happened last Saturday. I do not suggest everything was perfect. As I said, if there is a riot, it is obviously due in one sense to an absence of knowledge or sufficient numbers on the ground to deal with it. That is true, by definition. That is the view in retrospect, but the view in prospect relates to what it was reasonable to do on the day in question. That is the view we have to take in respect of all these matters. We need to consider what it was reasonable for gardaí to do. For example, did they depart from a reasonable standard in the circumstances? On the basis of the material provided in the preliminary report — it is not a final report — I have made available to Members, the Garda acted carefully and with a good deal of forethought. It did not believe violence of the kind that took place was a realistic possibility. Anyone who doubts this is suggesting the Garda took a chance — that it carelessly exposed its members to dangers in a manner that was unprofessional and did not benefit from advance thought.

I ask Deputies to examine the material I have furnished to them. We need to consider the plans put in place. I was asked whether St. John's Ambulance was involved in the preparations for the demonstration. An elaborate hospital plan was put together in case anything went wrong. A representative of the Health Service Executive was present in the control room. Health authorities and local authorities were consulted about anything that could go wrong. Talks were held with all political parties which, in the opinion of the Garda, were likely to mount any kind of counter-demonstration. As Deputy Joe Higgins said, people have the right to hold counter-demonstrations as long as they do so peacefully. The Garda received full co-operation from the parties with which it engaged prior to the demonstration, with the exception of Republican Sinn Féin which I have condemned for its failure to co-operate. It is regrettable that it decided, on the basis of its contempt for the State and its institutions, including the Garda, that it would not indicate the nature of the protest it was planning.

I would like to return to a fundamental point. What happened outside Leinster House on Saturday was an exercise of the constitutional rights and liberties which the State guarantees to all. We might not like the message of those who were demonstrating on Saturday — some of us may be very strongly opposed to it. Some of us may be very strongly of the view that there was an absence of good faith on the part of some of them in respect of what they had to say or how they had to say it. However, that is not the test that applies in a constitutional liberal republic to whether someone should or should not be allowed to protest on our streets. We must be willing to listen to voices and allow parades by people with whom we radically disagree. Those who assaulted gardaí never got to assault the objects of their hatred and sectarian bitterness. They only came across the gardaí in front of them. That they never laid a finger on the demonstrators is due to the professionalism and courage of the Garda Síochána and the wise decisions made by Garda management on the day. In defending the rights of the persons concerned to come to Dublin the Garda Síochána was upholding the Constitution. What was done was not republican in any shape or form. I was interested to hear this point echoed by Deputies Crowe and Ó Snodaigh. What was done attacked the very basis of republicanism. To carry a tricolour and, at the same time, attack a garda defending the right of fellow citizens to express their point of view is despicable, cowardly and yellow. It turns the stomach of every person who rightly claims to be a republican.

I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to be accountable this evening. Lessons will be learned by the Garda Síochána. The proposal was made that I should establish an independent group to look into the events, but Garda management has plenty of material to make its own inquiries and learn the lessons involved. We do not need an outside agency to do this, but will soon have an inspectorate. It will be open to the Minister of the day to ask it to look at whether professional standards were or were not maintained by the Garda in specific cases. In the meantime, having spoken to the Commissioner and the assistant commissioners responsible, I am sure they acted in good faith with the interests of the Constitution at heart. We should not judge them harshly with the aid of retrospection. On the day they did their duty in unexpectedly violent circumstances and upheld the best traditions of the Garda Síochána. Everyone from the assistant commissioner to trainee gardaí with blue bands on their epaulettes — I noticed a few of them in the photographs — did the State proud last Saturday.