Garda chief issues guidance to force on ‘harassment’ by protesters after Minister’s home is targeted

Internal note sent by Drew Harris says there are ‘fine judgements’ to be made but gardaí need to respond to such incidents ‘appropriately and adequately’

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said the use of posters outside homes could constitute harassment, as he sought to remind gardaí of their powers in the wake of an anti-immigration protest outside the home of a Minister.

In an internal guidance note issued on Friday evening, Mr Harris also said the wearing of balaclavas in particular has “potentially sinister overtures in Ireland”.

It comes after a group of masked men gathered outside the home of Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and attached banners to a fence calling on him to “close the borders”.

The incident has been condemned by the Taoiseach and Opposition TDs. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee described it as “vile and repulsive” and indicated she will examine new laws that could make protesting outside the homes of politicians illegal.


In the internal note circulated amongst gardaí on Friday night, and seen by The Irish Times, Mr Harris said it is “imperative” that citizens are protected from abusive behaviour where there is a reasonable suspicion of criminality.

He said that while there are “fine judgments” to be made, gardaí need to respond to such incidents “appropriately and adequately”.

“Recent incidents have shown a willingness by some protesters to target the homes of politicians. This targeting has included the family homes of both local and national elected representatives,” Mr Harris said in the note.

“In responding to such incidents An Garda Síochána must apply the garda decision making model, and ensure the approach is consistent with our duties under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. In particular, in incidents as aforementioned, members of An Garda Síochána should have regard to the impact of the protester’s actions and behaviours on householders, their families and other occupants, including neighbours and most especially in respect of particularly vulnerable persons.”

The circular said behaviours such as erecting posters and signs “may constitute a form of harassment and/or threatening and abusive conduct”.

“The wearing of balaclavas in particular, have potentially sinister overtures [sic] in Ireland. Such behaviours and actions should inform the assessment of the proportionate and appropriate response of Gardaí. There is an imperative to protect citizens from such behaviours in circumstances where it gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminality. Secondly, there is a duty to investigate such incidents thoroughly.”

In a statement on Friday evening, Mr O’Gorman warned that such protests could undermine democracy.

“I want to thank local Gardaí in Blanchardstown for their assistance yesterday. Ireland has a strong democratic tradition, where public representatives are accessible and accountable to the public. We debate and sometimes disagree, but do so in a way that is fundamentally respectful. I know that is valued by people across this country, and it is valued by politicians too,” he said.

“Threats and intimidation towards publicly elected representatives and those seeking election will undermine those essential qualities of Irish democracy. If we were to lose those, we would lose something very dear, and not easily recovered.”

Ms McEntee told RTÉ's Six One News that further consideration should be given to banning protests outside politician’s homes. Taoiseach Simon Harris described the incident as “chilling, disturbing, and quite frankly disgusting”.

In his guidance to members of the force, Drew Harris said he understands the “fine judgments that are required when dealing with such protests” and “fully appreciate(s) the increasingly vile abuse members of An Garda Síochána are subject to when fulfilling their duties in such circumstances.

“It is incumbent on members of An Garda Síochána to respond to such incidents appropriately and adequately, utilising legislative powers including, but not limited to, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, as amended, and the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, as amended. These are critical components to consider in our daily duties of keeping the people of Ireland safe.”

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said that the “intimidation and harassment of politicians by so-called protesters must be met with a robust policing response”.

“The alarming scenes we witnessed last night outside the home of Minister Roderic O’Gorman must not be allowed to continue. It is concerning that no apparent action was taken by gardaí to prevent the targeting of the minister’s home or to ensure that those engaged in this intimidation were either moved on or arrested,” she said.

“It should also be noted that this is not the first time we have seen scenes like this. The home of People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy has been similarly targeted. To be clear, the intimidation and harassment of a public representative by a group of masked men is an affront to democracy and cannot go unchallenged.”What we are witnessing is not protest. It is an attack on democratic values and a challenge to the rule of law.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times