Heavy-handed action by Gardai blasted by homelessness protestors

by Rachel Darcy

Housing activists have lashed out at An Garda Siochana and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy following a night of hostility in the city centre as housing protestors were removed from a property.

Members of a sit-in protest at the vacant house at Number 34, North Fredrick Street were removed from the property after 6pm on Tuesday evening by a gang of more than 10 masked men.

The masked men were reported to have arrived in an unmarked UK-registered van, accompanied by members of An Garda Siochana wearing protective masks.

A number of protesters – who were part of the Take Back The City (TBTC) movement – had originally been served with a High Court injunction to leave the building on August 28, but their removal did not take place until Tuesday night.

The house has been vacant for three years and was occupied by the activists in response to the current housing crisis.

Take Back The City claimed that a group of “15 to 20 masked men” entered the building using “electric saws and power tools”.

Gardai say the removal itself was peaceful, but that a large crowd had gathered on the street outside the property.

Five activists – four men and one woman – were arrested following the fracas. Two of those arrested will appear before the Criminal Court of Justice on October 2, and a further two received adult cautions. One was released without charge.

In a statement, An Garda Siochana said: “Gardai were at the scene of a High Court-ordered eviction at North Fredrick Street.

“The Garda’s only role in the proceedings was to prevent a breach of the peace. The eviction itself was peaceful.”

TBTC issued a statement on Twitter on Wednesday morning, saying that “as a community response” began to the removal, that further Gardai were called to the scene.

The group also claimed that “physical force was used against a number of attendees”, and that pepper spray was used on protesters.

In the same statement, TBIC said that the masked men who carried out the eviction were in breach of the Private Security (Identity Badge) Regulations (2009), as they were not wearing any identification with the name of their employer.

However, gardai at the scene were wearing their Garda numbers as identification, according to the Garda Press Office.

TBTC said: “As a community response to the [removal] attempt began to build, [Gardai] were joined by one Garda riot squad [unit], one public order Unit, one Garda transit connect van and one Garda jeep with dogs.”

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) also released a statement on Tuesday night, saying that two of those arrested were students.

Both the USI and TBTC said that four arrested activists were admitted to hospital as a result of injuries sustained in the melee.

At the time of going to print, TBTC said two people were still in hospital.

A protest then ensued with those gathered outside the house proceeding toward Store Street Garda Station via O’Connell Street.

Crowds began chants in opposition to Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s current government, and An Garda Siochana, as they marched.

The protest then continued outside Store Street Garda Station, with numerous videos posted to Twitter of the gathering, with the chants continuing until those arrested were released.

When contacted by Dublin Gazette, the Department of Housing said it had no comment on Tuesday night’s events.

Many people on social media have voiced their anger with how the removal and subsequent ruckus was handled by An Garda Siochana, with Solidarity TD Paul Murphy calling it “outrageous terrorism” by the Gardai.

Sinn Fein Justice spokesperson Donnchadh O Laoghaire critiqued the approach by Gardai to those fighting against the city’s ever-worsening housing crisis, echoing the concerns of some that there has been a heavier hand taken against those campaigning for reform than landlords.

He said: “The approach taken to the victims of the housing crisis, and those who are campaigning for change, is markedly different to that taken against slum landlords.”

At the time of going to print, a solidarity rally organised by Take Back the City is scheduled for Wednesday night at the Frederick St premises at the heart of Tuesday’s protest.

A rally is also planned to take place outside the Dail on October 3, when a cross-party debate on housing will be held.

Update: Comment from Commissioner Drew Harris on Policing of Protest at North Frederick Street, Dublin. Speaking today, Commissioner Harris said:

“An Garda Síochána respects the right of people to protest peacefully.

An Garda Síochána’s role at such events is to facilitate lawful protest while protecting the rights of others to do their lawful work safely – in this case carrying out an order of the High Court.

Our objective with any such operation is to ensure the safety of the public. Every year, An Garda Síochána polices a wide-range of lawful protests in this manner.

In relation to this specific incident, whilst preserving peace and public order, a graduated response was taken in line with the prevailing circumstances.

At the start of this event, An Garda Síochána deployed three community policing officers to oversee the safe compliance of a High Court order.

As the atmosphere at the event grew more tense, a small number of public order officers were deployed to ensure public safety. The use of a fire retardant hood by public order officers is a matter for the operational commander on the ground and is designed to protect the safety of our members based on a risk assessment. However, the form of dress used at the event was not correct as it is policy that if it deemed necessary to use the hood then it should be used in tandem with a protective helmet. A directive has issued today from Deputy Commissioner, Policing & Security, to re-enforce this requirement to all personnel.

In addition, I have requested a report from Assistant Commissioner, DMR, to see what lessons can be learnt from the event.

Members of An Garda Síochána showed restraint in the face of physical and verbal abuse from a very small minority and I condemn the racist abuse suffered by an individual member of An Garda Síochána working at the event.

The people who had occupied the building left the building peacefully in accordance with the High Court order. Subsequent to this, a small crowd failed to leave the area despite repeated warnings from An Garda Síochána under the Public Order Act and five people were arrested.”

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