Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
93. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the amount An Garda Síochána has spent to date policing protests against water meter installation; and if she will report on instances of the use of pepper spray and other excessive force against protesting residents. [43953/14]
My question concerns the amount that has been spent by An Garda Síochána to date policing protests against water meter installations. Will she report on the use of pepper spray or other excessive force by gardaí against protesting residents in their own communities?
As the Deputy knows, the statutory functions of An Garda Síochána include the preservation of peace and public order, the protection of life and property, and vindication of the human rights of individuals. Accordingly, gardaí have attended routinely at water meter installations where this has been necessary for the performance of these functions. This, regrettably, has necessitated the diversion of gardaí from other duties in the community. I regret that.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to comment on the work of An Garda Síochána, carried out in very difficult circumstances, in recent months when handling these protests. I am sure every Member of this House who is committed to democratic principles and the rule of law will join me in that.
In commenting on this matter, it is important that I make a distinction between the type of protest we had a couple of Saturdays ago, when tens of thousands of people across the country protested with dignity against water charges, facilitated by members of An Garda Síochána, and other forms of protest carried out by a small number of people in which individuals have been intimidated and prevented from going about their lawful business. The chanting of the words "peaceful protest" does not disguise the fact that intimidation is not peaceful, bullying is not peaceful, threatening behaviour is not peaceful, harassing people is not peaceful, throwing bricks at gardaí and Garda vehicles is not peaceful, targeting individual members of the Garda on social networks is not peaceful, and detaining the Tánaiste against her will is not peaceful. The fact that an associate of the Deputy has said he has no problem with detaining a person against his or her will says much more than I can about the reality of what has been going on.
There are, of course, well established procedures under which anyone can complain against the behaviour of an individual member of An Garda Síochána through the Garda Ombudsman Commission. In my view, however, it is standing reality on its head to suggest that the behaviour of the gardaí has been what has led to trouble at protests. Instead, a small minority with their own agenda have set out to cause as much trouble as they could without regard to the rights of others.
The Minister said that diverting gardaí from other necessary duties to water meter protests was not good. If that is the case, she should not do it. She is in charge of deploying Garda resources. It is her responsibility.
People have been aghast at the number of gardaí that can be found with no problem to attend the installation of water meters, when they are not available in my own community, for example, when women who have barring orders need them for protection. That is being commented upon throughout the length and breadth of the country by people of all persuasions.
I would like the Minister to comment, for example, on the behaviour of gardaí at the Mansion House the other day, when a woman was thrown violently against a kerb. She could have been seriously injured and was, in fact, injured. The Minister said nothing about that, but she spoke about the threats to other people.
Last week, women in their sixties were manhandled when the Taoiseach attended an event in Santry. The Minister has not mentioned the use of pepper spray in both Coolock and Tallaght the other day. She should comment on that.
Let us be clear, Deputy. Some of the behaviour that is taking place during the protests around water meter installation involves - and has involved, as the Deputy knows - breaking windscreens, slashing tyres and throwing bricks at gardaí.
On Saturday, children and other young people were placed in a dangerous situation. If people are throwing themselves at Garda cars or other vehicles, clearly the gardaí have to protect them.
There is a long tradition of peaceful protest in this country. The Garda Síochána has a responsibility to monitor and help ensure the protests take place. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Ireland on a whole range of issues and the protests went peacefully.
The Deputy asked about cost with regard to the current situation and the kind of behaviour that means the Garda Síochána must be present at protests, but the costs I am concerned about include Garda time, the costs to equipment and vehicles, and the potential costs of life-threatening and serious injuries that could take place due to some of the behaviour at the protests. I am very concerned about those costs.
If the Minister heard the interviews with the people of Cobh this morning, she would know that these are ordinary men and women who have suffered under the past six years of austerity and have had to come out to protest peacefully in their communities.
What did the Minister think would happen? Did she think she could hammer ordinary working-class people for six years - take away their teachers, take away their SNAs, take away their support, attack child benefit and impose a property tax - and this would not produce anger among communities?
If the Deputies opposite believe the Tánaiste was in any danger, it is quite incredible. It is very clear to me that people are expressing their anger and there was no threat to the Tánaiste by anyone at any stage.
The Deputy seems to be making a defence of serious public disorder. She asked me what I expect people to do. I expect Deputy Coppinger and other Deputies to use democratic means to discuss the range of issues they are concerned about. I expect democratic peaceful protest and debate in the House. I expect the use of democratic means to deal with the issues, as opposed to throwing bricks, refusing to allow the installation-----
As opposed to throwing eggs and other missiles, sticks and cigarette lighters, and as opposed to damaging Garda vehicles and sitting down in front of cars that were trying to leave and making it difficult for people to use public roads. That is what I expect - democratic means, rather than the means I listed. I ask Deputies Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy to support a democratic way of debating these issues. I understand the concerns people have about water charges. We will be dealing with those and we have taken note of them, but the kind of behaviour we have seen should not be part of this democracy.