constitutional right | 

Exclusion zones at refugee centres would ‘deny people’s right to protest’

Cllr Joe Costello asked for exclusion zones that would ban protestors from congregating outside buildings used to house asylum seekers

People pictured during a protest against housing refugees in East Wall earlier this month. Pic: Collins Photos

Neasa CumiskeySunday World

The introduction of ‘exclusion zones’ at refugee accommodation centres would deny people’s “constitutional right to peaceful protest”, the executive director an Irish civil liberties group has said.

Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) was speaking as a number of politicians raised concerns over “intimidating behaviour” at demonstrations in Dublin city this month.

Gardaí have policed a whopping 64 protests in the capital so far this year, compared to 307 protests in all of last year, according to a report presented to the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee (DCJPC).

Dublin Central councillor Joe Costello this week asked An Garda Síochána’s Assistant Commissioner, Angela Willis, to consider introducing exclusion zones that would ban protestors from congregating outside residential properties or buildings used to house asylum seekers.

However, Mr Herrick told Newstalk Breakfast that this approach would not work.

“I think the difficulty is that there's a constitutional right to peaceful protest,” he said.

“If you were to try to restrict it in the way that's being suggested, it would require legislation - which is a very blunt instrument and would restrict the rights of a wider category of people.

“I think the approach the Guards are taking at the moment is the one we would support.

“They are focusing on the criminal elements around these protests and dealing with them through the laws against intimidation, threats, violence and so on.

“I think that is where we should start.

“I think, at this point, legislation would be a blunt instrument and isn't perhaps the appropriate focus”.

But Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon disagreed and argued that these protests require further garda action.

He said that he doesn’t deny people’s right to protest but said demonstrators don’t have a right to “intimidate, threaten or libel someone”.

“I [would] reluctantly support the idea if these kind of protests continued out there.

“Obviously, people have a right to protest, and whether I agree with the cause or not - I definitely don't in this case - the location and the targeting matters.

“I think it's a bit like freedom of speech where you absolutely have freedom of speech, but you don't have a right to intimidate, threaten or libel someone.

"If you're outside a hotel or a home where there's vulnerable people - including children - with people there chanting, 'Get them out,' I think that's something we'd have to, unfortunately, reluctantly, look at and say, that actually crosses a line.

"In the same way that I can protest about virtually anything outside the Dáil, I can't come in to your listener’s kitchens or go inside their car and claim that's a protest.

"I think it's about setting a reasonable limit," he added.

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