Ireland: Joe Higgins condemns government’s scaremongering against protesters

Police brutality and water cannons used against May Day protesters in Dublin

The following are edited extracts from a debate held in the Dail (Irish parliament) on 5 May, on the Dublin May Day protests that were held as the Irish state, holding the Presidency of the EU, marked the expansion of the EU.Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD, condemned the scaremongering of the government, the police repression on May Day, and the detentions of protestors.

Joe Higgins condemns government’s scaremongering against protesters

Enda Kenny (Fine Gael) [Right wing opposition party]: Last weekend saw an unparalleled level of security and policing on the streets of Dublin. The Government had an obligation to ensure the security and safety of our citizens and visitors from Europe. The ceremonies were very important. The duty of the Government to enforce law and order applies not only when we have visitors from Europe, but for the other 51 weekends of the year also….

Minister for Defence (Michael Smith): I thank Deputy Kenny for his complimentary remarks on the security services provided over the weekend. I compliment the Garda [Irish police], the Army, the OPW and everybody else who was involved in ensuring that a major international event passed off with the minimum of difficulty. It augurs very well for the capacity of our security services to deal with whatever lies ahead in this area….

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party): Over the May Day weekend the Government used thousands of gardaí to put a cordon of steel around the Phoenix Park, allegedly to deal with thousands of violent hooligans whom the Government and the usual elements in the press fraudulently claimed were going to cause mayhem on the streets of Dublin.

Did it occur to the Minister that gardaí may have been facing in the wrong direction on the day? The Government had as its guests the prime ministers of the occupation powers in Iraq which were responsible only five weeks ago for the slaughter of hundreds of women and children in Falluja and for the systematic torture and abuse of prisoners. Did it occur to the Ministers that the Government ought to have directed some gardaí to question these prime ministers about war crimes rather than stuffing them with duck, salmon and Château Lynch Bage?The Government, for the first time in the history of the State, ordered water cannons to be used against demonstrators. Some said this was an over-reaction. In fact, a calculated decision was made that, at the slightest excuse, the Garda would test the equipment which the Government had supplied. When a few plastic bottles and empty beer cans were thrown by foolhardy individuals, and they should not have been—–

Mr. Kelleher (Fianna Fáil): And bricks.

J. Higgins: May I put the incident in context? Some 23 young people were arrested and all have been charged with extremely minor offences. A constituent of mine was arrested because he got off the bus to make his way home. Far more people were arrested at the rally of the lakes in Killarney during the same weekend and it did not take two thirds of the Garda force and two water cannon to take care of the situation. Most of the people arrested at the demonstration were detained in jail until today. One is charged with the serious offence of being in possession of a Garda cap – receiving stolen property.How can the Minister justify that? Corrupt colleagues of his who have robbed the State of millions have never darkened the doorway of a courthouse, yet the Government treats young people like that. Did it occur to the Government to send the water cannon into the boardrooms of the major banks to flush out millionaire executives responsible for the real theft of €1 billion of taxpayers’ funds?The Government set out to thwart civil rights this weekend. It did it to frighten people away from their democratic right to protest and to keep numbers down at demonstrations against President Bush. It will not work.

M. Smith: Last week in the House, Deputy Joe Higgins was asked to request people who wished to dissent or protest to do it in a peaceful way but he refused, quite blankly, to do that.

J. Higgins: That is wrong.

M. Smith: I am happy to withdraw the remark. The people to whom I have spoken in the Garda and the security forces, everything I have read and people I have met from many different countries have been complimentary of Ireland and of the way the events of the weekend were managed. It is with some regret that I listen to Deputy Higgins decry people who worked overtime—–


J. Higgins: They were paid the overtime.

M. Smith: A number of the people involved gave up their weekend holiday…

M. Smith: Again, I compliment the Garda, the Defence Forces and everyone associated with the handling of a wonderful weekend for this country. No one in this House has the right to decry it or present it in any other way. The problem associated with the dissent of protesters was dealt with in an efficient and speedy manner, with minimal problems for protesters. On behalf of the Government and people, I am proud of the manner in which the security services handled the situation over the weekend.

J. Higgins: For a full month before May Day, there was a deliberate and orchestrated campaign by the Government, members of the security forces and sections of the media to terrify the citizens of Dublin, particularly families, so they would not exercise their right to peaceful protest. This was because the Government was seriously embarrassed on 15 February last year when more than 100,000 people came out in protest against the impending invasion of Iraq. In response to this protest, the Taoiseach [Prime Minister] tried to convince the Dáil that the 100,000 protesters were virtually card-carrying members of Fianna Fáil [main government party] who took to the streets to support him. That did not work and will not work on the occasion of the Bush visit when, I have no doubt, massive numbers will want to protest against the outrageous atrocities taking place in Iraq and the disaster which Bush has brought on its people.The Government campaign is to stop peaceful protest and to do so on the occasion of the Bush visit. This is why the Government brought in water cannon and used them without legitimate excuse, and had a ring of steel around the Phoenix Park. Despite this, I call on the people not to be frightened out of their right to peaceful protest and to come out again in large numbers.

An Ceann Comhairle [‘Speaker of the House’]: The Deputy’s time is concluded.

J. Higgins: The Minister said nothing about the fact that 20 young people have been scandalously kept in jail for the most minor of offences. Will he address this?

M. Smith: The Government has no problem whatsoever with peaceful protest

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May 2004