Calls To Clarify Right To Protest During Crisis After Four Courts Freak Show

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The government is being urged to provide legal clarity on people’s right to protest while the covid-19 restrictions are in place.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties request follows a number of demonstrations this week which received conflicting responses from Gardai.

A small number of Debenhams workers on Dublin’s Henry Street has their demonstration swiftly ended but Gardai didn’t intervene later that day during a bawdy protest in the nearby four courts.

The ICCL says the restrictions must be equally applied and regularly reviewed, and wants the government to clarify its position on the right to protest as soon as possible.

ICCL’s expert on the right to protest, Doireann Ansbro, said:

“The right to protest, to voice dissent and dissatisfaction without fear of breaking the law, is a core tenet of a democracy. Although the right to protest can be justifiably restricted in a public health crisis for a limited period, the longer the restrictions are in place, the higher the threshold for their justification and the more urgent the need for their review.”

The current regulations, which grant the gardaí extraordinary powers to enforce specific public health measures, contain a non-exhaustive list of reasonable excuses for which people can leave their place of residence. The gardaí can use their discretion to determine what constitutes a “reasonable excuse”. This places individual gardaí in the position of adjudicating on whether someone whose job or livelihood is at stake should be allowed to exercise their Constitutional right to protest while maintaining physical distance.

Ms Ansbro continued

“We’re concerned that recently protesters have been escorted away from protests and prevented from speaking to journalists. While the necessity for restricting some of our rights in the current context is evident, the restrictions must be equally applied, regularly reviewed and proportionate to the risk. Where a protest is small and complying with principles of physical distancing, as we saw in Cork and Dingle lately, there is a very good argument that they should be facilitated”.