‘Intimidatory’ protesters over immigration include ex-campaigners on Covid, Seanad told

Proposed law to protect public representatives’ homes from demonstrations to be considered by Oireachtas committee

Legislation introduced three years ago to protect politicians from demonstrations outside their homes by anti-vaccination campaigners during the Covid pandemic will be considered by the Oireachtas Justice Committee for dealing with anti-immigrant pickets.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said the “same incidents of intimidation and harassment” are occurring now. The Wexford politician tabled the Protection of Private Residences (Against Targeted Picketing) Bill in 2021 “when much of what we were dealing with related to Covid. This has moved on and it is often the same people engaging in these intimidatory practices which are now related to immigration,” he told the Seanad.

The Bill makes it an offence for a person to organise or engage in a protest within 200m of a residence with a fine of €1,000 for a first conviction and €5,000 and up to 12 months imprisonment for further offences.

The Government did not oppose the legislation, which was first debated in February last year. Mr Byrne said Minister for Justice Helen McEntee at the time “indicated she was happy for further consultation and for the Bill to go to the Justice Committee” but he said “I am concerned that very little has happened” since then.


The legislation was debated in the Seanad again on Thursday and is expected to be passed by the Upper House next week and then referred to the Justice Committee for hearings to gauge different legal views about whether existing legislation is sufficient or if a standalone Bill is required.

Earlier this month Taoiseach Simon Harris indicated the Government was looking for a solution. Mr Byrne asked if the existing legislation “is strong enough or do we need, as the Bill provides for, a stand-alone offence”.

Minister of State Colm Burke condemned the “growing issue of targeted protests outside the homes of politicians and public figures”, which he described as personalised in nature and affecting public representatives’ families and neighbours as well.

He pointed out that a range of existing offences may apply, including the 1994 Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, which outlines offences of disorderly conduct in a public place; threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place; distributing or displaying threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene material; failing to comply with direction from a Garda; wilful obstruction, trespass, riot and violent disorder. The 1997 Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act provides for offences of harassment, coercion and making threats.

Mr Byrne said he was “quite happy if we know the existing legislation is strong enough but I don’t believe that’s the case. The evidence is there in the fact that these protests are continuing and those carrying them out seem to think they are above the law.”

Mr Burke said that the Minister for Justice “wants this issue to be properly considered and the introduction of new laws fully assessed” and will ask the Justice Committee to “do further detailed consideration of the Bill”.

Fine Gael Senator Michael Carrigy said he supported Senator Byrne’s legislation and pointed out that he had “been through the judicial system because of threats on social media. I have also had people at my family home while I was putting my children to bed, and these were people from a political party represented in these Houses.

“We want to keep people in public life. We want people to be able to put themselves forward for public life. We want to know our family homes will be protected while we are away. I fully support, therefore, whatever we can do to strengthen such protections.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times