Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ruled out banning the right for people to take photographs and videos of gardai during protests and while they are on duty in a slap down to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Mr Varadkar insisted yesterday he has no plans to introduce the measure, just 24 hours after Mr Flanagan suggested the move may take place to protect officers from online abuse in light of the Take Back The City homelessness protests.
During the first leaders’ questions debate of the new Dáil term, Mr Varadkar was asked by Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett if he will condemn the garda response to the North Frederick St occupation protest in Dublin.
The protest — which relates to calls to house homeless people in otherwise empty properties — led to a furious outcry after gardaí and security workers moving protesters wore balaclavas to protect their identities, and after one officer suffered online threats.
However, while Mr Flanagan sparked controversy after telling RTÉ Radio’s Today With Sean O’Rourke programme on Monday he would be open to banning the videoing and photographing of gardai in order to protect them, Mr Varadkar insisted there are no plans for a new law to be introduced.
“I want to reassure people — press photographers, individual citizens and protestors — that there are no Government proposals whatsoever to do that [ban photography or videoing at protests],” Mr Varadkar said when asked by Mr Boyd Barrett.
Taoiseach @campaignforleo Varadkar tells @RBoydBarrett following #TakeBackTheCity protest that the Government does not have any plans to introduce any ban on filming or photographing Gardaí as this would be a "restriction on free speech" and is not something he could support. pic.twitter.com/doSm9RpiyY— Conor McMorrow (@ConorMcMorrow) September 18, 2018
The decision to publicly reject Mr Flanagan’s initial comment is likely to be seen as a criticism of the justice minister and his public handling of the case on Monday.
Mr Flanagan subsequently said he would be prepared to examine plans to introduce a ban on photographing and videoing them during their work.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar called on Mr Boyd Barrett to condemn any violence or threats of violence against gardaí carrying out their duties, which Mr Boyd Barrett agreed to do.
Mr Varadkar was separately urged by both Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats to introduce a three-year and two-year rent freeze respectively amid claims ongoing housing and renting crises show the rent pressure zones system is not working.
However, the Taoiseach insisted the move may cause unseen pitfalls which could damage large sections of the population.
“Do they have some big announcement, a rabbit to be pulled from the hat? The fact is that they don’t. I’m not asking for tinkering, I’m asking for you to take decisive action,” Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said, leading Mr Varadkar to respond: “I can assure the deputy I have no rabbits to pull out of the hat and I have no quick fix. To every complex problem, there’s an easy and simple solution that doesn’t work, and a rent freeze is probably one of those.”