Cause for concern should grow following the violence witnessed on September 11 at North Frederick Street in inner city Dublin
Cause for concern should grow following the violence witnessed on September 11 at North Frederick Street in inner city Dublin where a possibly-British balaclava-masked private security firm in paramilitary formation and supported by the Public Order Unit («Riot Squad») (“…they carried long batons – potentially lethal weapons…” Gene Kerrigan) of an Garda Síochana forcibly evicted protestors occupying a building in outrage at the escalating housing and homeless crisis here in Ireland…
Gene Kerrigan’s tweet, along with his criticism of an Garda Síochána (“Assuming a position of comradeship with bulky men dressed in paramilitary-style uniforms, that’s new, though.”)
put the military-style operation in perspective:
“Housing protesters removed: Public Order Unit, in body armour, with faces covered, have nothing but lethal batons to protect themselves against ferocious chants of «Shame on you«. Shame on You: video”
This follows an equally disturbing eviction in July where the state’s armed Emergency Response Unit of an Garda Síochána was used to evict a number of the Communist Party’s Connolly Youth Movement activists from two houses that they had been squatting in in Cork. “They have been squatting in these buildings to publicise the housing crisis and to raise the demand for universally accessible public housing to be made available to all citizens as a right, with rents linked to income…”
…as well as a later confrontation on September 17th, again in inner city Dublin (Flynn’s B&B, 16, Gardiner Street upper) where the same Garda armed unit attended another heavy-handed eviction observed by the Take Back the City – Dublin group.
Injury following insult, you might think, looking at a housing crisis that is getting worse despite economic growth and profits, including rents, starting to go through the roof again.
The protestors/occupiers of Ms. Patricia Ní Greil’s 34 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1, were members of the same Take Back The City (Dublin) group who have been holding sit-ins at other vacant properties to highlight the number of homes sitting empty while people are forced to sleep on the streets each night.
“Never in our history have we had less control over the direction of our lives. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are providing political cover while another crowd of gamblers plays another version of the old game of greed. With spectacularly damaging consequences. Barnardos has recently dealt with more children in crisis than it’s ever seen (who’d have guessed that perpetual economic adventurism, and a State policy of raising kids in emergency accommodation, would damage children?). St Vincent de Paul and the Capuchins continue to be run off their feet as they try to keep people from going hungry.
“Official hospital waiting lists are at a conservative 718,000 and the Taoiseach – I kid you not – says the figures are «going in the right direction».
“Meanwhile, his ministers have come up with another cynical plan to pump countless millions into the private sector in the hope it’ll take the bare look off their housing policy. The plan seems to be to release State land in the hope that speculators will build a notional amount of «affordable» homes, while the majority of their products will be officially «unaffordable» to most hardworking people.
“An unsustainable portion of our collective wealth is being siphoned off into the purses of the owners of property.
“It’s a great time to be a predatory financial adventurer. We have a new generation of politicians who are fervent believers that the fundamental basis of society is not the republic but the market.”
Shame on them…
When the violence at North Frederick Street started, with angle grinders and crowbars apparently, a spokesperson for Take Back the City said “that a van without a registration plate at its front and a UK registration number at its rear pulled up outside 34 North Frederick Street with 15 to 20 men.”
Where does the law end and violence begin?
Justice Michael Quinn had granted Ms Ní Greil, the owner of the unoccupied house at 34 North Frederick Street, an “injunctions requiring persons unknown to vacate and cease trespassing and get out of the four-storey building on 28 August.” That much within the law in a ‘thriving’ democracy. And apparenbtly what has been happening recently is that the protestors/occupiers have complied; and moved on to occupy another vacant building. What followed though on September 11 should be cause for concern.
As Gene Kerrigan pointed out:
“Wearing black outfits, with balaclavas, they stood at ease in front of the building, legs apart, arms clasped behind their backs. This is a military position – «parade rest». The last time I saw that dress style combined with that stance, I was covering an IRA funeral. Are these masked people ex-soldiers? Which army? Are they ex-IRA? Ex-UDA? They are not hired for their sensitivity. And, to complete the picture, the ‘Public Order Unit’ accompanied them, with armoured vests and with batons drawn. One visually echoing the other – it was difficult to see where the paramilitary-style lads ended and the State forces began.”
Cause for concern? You’re telling me…
Sinn Féin pointed out that the images “certainly give an impression of a heavy handed, overreaction to a peaceful housing occupation.”
The Green Party justice spokesperson Roderic O’Gorman, disturbed by the images of gardaí wearing balaclavas said:
“I just think it is quite disturbing that we see a protest being policed in this particular way. I don’t think it meets the criteria of transparency and openness that we would expect from policing.”
Anarchy or Terrorism..?
The Garda’s own Representative Association spokesperson pointed out, following a public outcry, that a part of the policing process is to intimidate those likely to get unruly at a demonstration of their civil rights and liberties: “Their uniform is designed to protect the wearer and to act as an optical deterrence to such violence.”
However even John O’Keeffe, Communications Director of the GRA (and also Editor, Garda Review) had to agree with the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, former deputy chief constable of the reformed PSNI and admit that:
“While the wearing of protective hoods, without helmets, was operationally incorrect, these hoods would doubtless be equally, if not more visually repugnant to certain protestors, when worn with a helmet.”
Other points, alongside “optical deterrence” to learn about policing citizen’s demonstrations of their democratic liberties and rights, etc.:
1 “…that often our members are the last and perhaps only line between potential chaos and order.”
2 “…the frontline are under potential threat of attack every time they wear their uniform. Currently, they have only an extendable baton and pepper spray to defend themselves. Therefore, from time to time, An Garda Síochána will receive information as to when they may need to engage gardaí with specialist training.”
3 “No threat whatsoever emanates from this ordinary group of men and women. Indeed the idea that members of the Public Order Unit are somehow agent provocateurs, is a truly worn narrative that has zero basis in fact.”
So while all this “worn narative” of concern around heavy handedness, reminiscent of the 1970’s here and ‘incidents’ involving the infamous Garda «Heavy Gang» were going on, the Minister for Justice in the now moving-very-right-of-centre Fine Gael party added to the debate by raising the prospects of amending legislation making it illegal to photograph the Gardaí in the course of their business… epecially, we can read in the small print, if that business is one of of subduing civil (or economic) rights protestors…
Charles Matthew Flanagan, Fine Gael, has served as Minister for Justice and Equality since June 2017; speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke on September 17, the minister for Justice admitted that he would be favourable to outlawing photography of Gardaí in the course of their duties.
«The images of balaclavas on the streets of Dublin, these images were disturbing» Justice Minister @CharlieFlanagan tells @TodaySOR but he says he is favourable to the idea that it could be made illegal to photograph Gardaí while they are working. #TodaySOR
As socialist (and protesting) TD Paul Murphy tweeted later, without photography of the Gardaí, he and his fellow water protestors might well be in jail if documentary evidence of their protest had not contradicted Garda statements during their trial. So photographic footage of gardaí and protesters played a key role in the 2017 trial of these anti-water charges activists accused of the false imprisonment of then government tánaiste Joan Burton. Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and five other men were acquited of all charges.
“If filming gardaí on duty was made illegal, I and other Jobstown defendants could be in jail right now,” Mr Murphy said yesterday. “Video evidence shown in court, which contradicted Garda testimony, was crucial in our acquittal.”
Likewise, as others pointed out “we wouldn’t know that our police force turned up to a protest last week in dress that was later termed «not correct» by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris himself.”
“Flanagan himself admitted that the scenes of masked up Gardaí were «disturbing» — so why, why, why suggest a measure that would have kept that disturbing reality from the public eye? There is only one reason to raise such an issue in the wake of the North Frederick Street protest — and that is fear. Flanagan hopes to dissuade disenfranchised and disillusioned people, who cannot afford homes, who cannot abide the rampant homelessness, who cannot stand the profiteering and the dereliction and the predatory renting, from exercising their constitutional right to voice their concern.”
Liberal Democracy (in a neo-liberal world) would seem now to be a very loose description of a way of organising society when it comes to protecting the rights of property in relation to the rights of a majority of our citizens to having their basic needs met through ‘social provision’. Of course, those on the Left have pointed this out for years. And not just the Left: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” Anatole France wrote in 1894 (Le Lys rouge/VII).
Now that it appears that momemtum is building up once again for society to take a turn in one of two directions: either towards more equality and rights for more people (with the price that this will cost to those sensitive to the “market value” of all things), or less equality, with more protection (along with tax breaks, etc.) for property and the individuals and corporations that possess it…
…surely it is time for widespread and serious concern at this ‘drift’ to the Right, not just here, but in so many places?
“The role performed by An Garda Síochána is not just important. It is fundamental and essential to the functioning of Irish society. For a politician to politicise policing in such a way, and drive a wedge between the public and those tasked with protecting them, is nauseating. Flanagan’s statements were profoundly ill-advised at best, but unforgivable at worst. Gardaí and government ministers, at the very core, actually have the same job with the same motivations. They are servants of the people, and their purpose is to make life better for the people, not to make their own jobs easier at the expense of civil liberties. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out the way it should — and that’s a reality we need to face head on, rather than paper over the cracks with a law that would make more sense in 1930s Germany.”
Whether many working class people would believe that the Gardaí and government ministers are indeed “servants of the people” might well be worth exploring. As well as an explanation as to why or how they are not? And in this instance, on North Frederick Street, on an early Autumn’s day, it would appear, either way, that the mask “of service” to and for whom, you might ask, slipped..?
CIVIL RIGHTS? OR CIVIL WRONGS?
It is also of concern to observe how the facts of a demonstration of armed force displaying itself nakedly on the streets of your average Dublin could have the conversation changed to one of “fire retardant dress”, “victimisation of the Gardaí” in the majority of the media rather than the serious issues involved. Smoke and mirrors? In response to a crisis not just in housing and health but in people’s trust in the democratic process itself and the agents of that process?
Likewise, as the Irish Times drew attention to in 2017, for a long time there have been calls to address unacceptable levels of “alleged” violence and “unprofessional” carry-on within an (the) Garda Síochána. But like the other ‘great’ institutions in this country (in particular most recently the Church), it is still often not considered polite (or possibly even «safe») to point out the obvious and hold those who have become accustomed to behaving outrageously to account, as well as addressing another outrageous assumption apparently shared by too many, for too long, in power here – impunity; meaning it seems some people in positions of power here did what they liked for a long time – knowing that no one would challenge them and those that did dare would discover how costly it could be. Ask Garda whistle blower Sgt. Maurice McCabe about this maybe?
Amnesty International had called for an independent inquiry into the so-called Heavy Gang of senior Garda detectives here in the mid 1970s (another Fine Gael government initiative by the way) where torture and beating – (“physical beatings and psychological techniques similar to some used in Northern Ireland to obtain information and secure incriminating statements”) – in the pursuit of confessions were becoming the norm:
“They sent a team of investigators to Dublin in June ’77 – a year after [Nicky] Kelly was first arrested – to investigate many allegations of ill-treatment. Their subsequent report found «consistent and substantiated evidence of maltreatment in order to extract from arrested persons incriminating statements of confessions». The report also expressed concern which was critical of Special Criminal Court procedures.” (Magill Archive)
The (sadly lamented) Derek Dunne and Gene Kerrigan’s, 1984 ‘Round up the usual suspects: Nicky Kelly and the Cosgrave coalition’ (Dublin: Magill. “A panoramic view of the 1970s and the controversial reign of the [Fine Gael] Cosgrave Coalition”) courageously gave voice to some of these concerns and the enormous silence (and fear) that surrounded them at that time.
Likewise a number of serious cases involving the Garda Síochána from Donegal to Kerry (see: Hayes, Joanna (1985) My story. The Brandon Press. – «the Kerry Babies Case») raised enormous questions over the “professionalism” of “the Force” given the enormous powers they have in the interests of justice and supposedly, protecting Irish citizens; to say nothing of the assumption that they will serve this justice impartially and with respect for due process…
Likewise the Shell to Sea campaign beginning in 2005 and the resulting violence by Shells’ hired security firm I-RMS security supported, once again, by the Gardaí would need a book in itself to explore… Suffice to say, in 2013, even UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, among others, called on the Irish government to investigate all allegations and reports of intimidation, harassment and surveillance in the context of the Corrib Gas dispute. At that time “Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, who alleges he was assaulted by gardaí during a peaceful protest at the gas project in Mayo told TheJournal.ie that the report ‘confirms what those of us campaigning against Shell in Rossport have said for a long time – that the right to peaceful protest has been repeatedly and consciously trampled upon by the gardaí’.”
Now following the avalanche of recent scandals resulting in the hiring of our new police Commissioner… and the less-than-honest carrying on by those in authority within the State, the new ex-RUC Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, begins his contract with more allegations of heavy handed tactics, unwarranted violence and …sheer bad manners in the way the Gardaí relate to simple Dublin citizens, let alone ‘militant’ protestors…“fuck off ye stupid bitch”, for example?
“I just nearly had my phone taken out of my hand by a man in a balaclava, who then forcibly held me under the arm and pushed me away, simply for asking why people were being removed from the peaceful occupation of North Frederick Street house, the street I live off. This man was a GUARD. When I asked him why he was wearing a balaclava he told me I had no right to ask that and to, I quote «fuck off ye stupid bitch». He then grabbed my phone and put his hands on me. After I said he had absolutely no right to do so and he said he did. He then said «Ok, you are going to get arrested.» (September 11 at 12:04 PM)
This poor woman happened to live on the street the Gardaí were laying siege to and probably, and unfortunately for her, just on her way home for her tea…
“Police wear masks when there’s a genuine belief they may be targeted by violent criminals. To wear them when policing dissent is a tactic designed to demonise that dissent. Harris knows that serious police officers don’t greet dissent with batons. And he’ll know when paramilitary-style gentlemen confront dissenters the role of the police is to protect the dissenters, not to literally stand with the paramilitary-style heavies. That’s if you believe in that stuff about democracy, and the consent of the governed.
“Mr Harris may have been too busy to note the record of An Garda Síochána in dealing with dissent. It is not good.”
And of course Minister Flanagan’s suggestion is that instead of addressing this woman’s concerns it would be better to make sure we have no photographic record of what she was going on about – on her way home to tea? Or maybe no evidence? Where have we heard that before? And what does it imply?
Concern then. Serious concern.
People’s rights are something that have been fought for, fought to be held on to and obviously now, something that needs to be continually defended in the face of arguments that they are not good for people, cause “chaos”, “anarchy” or encourage “criminal elements”.
However it is the development of a society’s rights (linked to an increasing education for and awareness of, our social responsibilities to each other), that should be the concern rather than this endless raft of protections for corporations and private property at the cost of a diminishing of people’s rights, particularly the men, women and children of no property, in this case literally – those without a home and too often without even shelter.
Responding to the Justice Minister’s comments the Irish Times canvassed a range of opinions on Minister Flanagan’s proposals, (hopes, dreams?):
“TJ McIntyre, a law lecturer in UCD specialising in digital technology, said any measures to ban recording would likely be unconstitutional.
“Anything to restrict your right to film would have to be justified by some clear and compelling evidence and proportionality,” he said. “ Any sort of blanket prohibition would be clearly in violation of freedom of expression under the Constitution and under the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights].”
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it was also gravely concerned.
“Those who exercise authority must have a reasonable expectation of public scrutiny and this applies, in particular, to the Garda Síochána and Defence Forces.
“It is inevitable that those who exercise great power over citizens should be subjected to the greatest scrutiny and should be required to meet the highest ethical standards.
“Of course, no garda or anybody else should be abused or threatened on or offline. However, using isolated incidents of abuse to push for legislation like Flanagan proposes represents a very cynical exploitation of that abuse in order to undermine civil liberties.”
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said it was “seriously concerned by the Minister for Justice’s suggestion on the radio this morning that he supports legislation to outlaw the photographing of Gardai acting in the course of their duties.”
“Only a week ago, we witnessed the importance of public access to images of Gardai on duty. The circulation of photographs of masked Gardai at the scene of a housing rights protest prompted widespread public debate about how An Garda Siochana goes about the policing of protest. The photographs led to a statement by the new Garda Commissioner that the Gardai had not acted in accordance with their own policies, and to the Garda Commissioner requesting a report on the incident. The events of last week demonstrate exactly why the Minister is wrong to suggest that this crucial mechanism of transparency should be outlawed.
…Time and time again, both in Ireland and abroad, we have witnessed how recordings of police behaviour during protests has helped to shine a light on violations of human rights obligations by police actors, and indeed violations of the law by private individuals where they occur. In many countries, police representatives are now required to wear body cameras themselves in order to ensure that they are accountable, and indeed protected, in their actions.”
Where to from here?
“They’re children playing with matches.
They cannot house their people.
They cannot medically treat their people.
They cannot ensure their people have enough to eat.
But they sure know how to grovel to the aforesaid predatory financial adventurers.
It must be galling to Varadkar and his hapless ministers when a significant number of mostly young people engage in peaceful civil disobedience, questioning official policy.
They’re refusing to accept the insane logic of making the few wealthy at the expense of the many, with a vague hope that the excess wealth of the few will somehow trickle down to the rest of us.
They occupied an empty building. A symbolic protest against the pro-property, anti-people policies of the governing cartel, which have wreaked havoc with our people.”
“Some groups are saying that the housing system is broken; but in fact it is operating exactly as Fine Gael and their allies in the landlord and developer class intend. Within the next three years the state will subsidise landlords by a whopping €3 billion, through rent allowance, housing assistance payment, the rental accommodation scheme, and leasing.
“When you consider that a house can be built for €150,000 by a local authority on public land and leased to a tenant for an affordable rate, you can see that this manufactured crisis is merely a transfer of public money to the hands of landlords and developers.
“With the average increase in rents from 2011 to 2017 hitting 45 per cent and the average increase in wages a mere 5 per cent, working people are being squeezed for the well-being of the landlord class, and to reduce the cost to the exchequer of the bank bail-out through an increase in asset prices.”
Shame on you all…
“The law is made by the Dail, where a quarter of TDs are landlords. To peacefully challenge the law when it seriously damages our children is not a right, it’s a duty. The young dissenters are standing by the basic human right to shelter.
Last week, the Garda – literally – showed where it stands. With the paramilitary-style lads representing property speculation.”
The next public protest in Dublin about the Housing/Homeless crisis is the “Raise the Roof for Housing” rally at the Dáil (Irish parliament), Leinster House, on October 3.
This protest is organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) along with “a number of homeless charities and advocacy and campaign groups” and coincides with opposition TDs launching a motion in the Dáil “demanding emergency measures to tackle the ongoing housing and homelessness crises.”
The motion calls for the crises to be declared a national emergency and for a doubling of capital expenditure on public and affordable housing.
Expect to see the army there…
By Lapsed Pacifist [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Appendix – Policing Ireland: some useful resources
Magill, The Garda Scandals: The Evidence Noonan Ignores (1984)
Why a ‘Breakdown in Trust’? A brief look at the Frontline Human Rights Report
Can young people influence the future of policing?
Aogán Mulcahy, Eoin O’Mahony, Policing and Social Marginalisation in Ireland
Image & Video
Take Back The City – Dublin