Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has broken his silence on Tuesday night’s protest at 34 North Frederick Street in Dublin.
The protest, which saw activists occupy a vacant building in Dublin city centre in order to protest the ongoing housing crisis, resulted in several arrests — with some activists presenting to hospital with injuries sustained in the dispersion of the protest.
On Thursday, Harris, who has only been Garda Comissionner for a week, released a statement on the incident.
“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.”
It was argued by activists and many on social media that the private security firm responsible for the eviction may have been in breach of the law by neglecting to wear identification badges. It was further reported by the Irish Times that the van used by the private security firm was not displaying a tax disc.
Harris’ statement further explained: “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.”
Harris also addressed one of the most contentious elements of the police response, acknowledging that the use of a “fire retardant hood” — characterised by many as a “mask” — was “not correct”.
The statement read: “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.”
Harris further claimed that one Garda on the scene received racist abuse.
“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 Garda response at North Frederick Street prompted an even larger protest on the streets of Dublin on Wednesday night, which involved a major sit-down that briefly shut down O’Connell Street.