Gardaí in ‘Catch-22’ situation over water meter protests

The High Court has heard gardaí are in a "Catch-22" situation when trying to move water protesters from inside barriers where water meters are being installed because it is not a public area and the Public Order Act does not apply.

The difficulty this posed for gardaí was outlined in the High Court yesterday by Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy, who was giving evidence in a hearing concerning three men alleged to have breached a High Court order not to go within 20 metres of contractors installing meters.

The chief superintendent told the High Court that locations where water meters were being installed were not public areas for the purpose of the Public Order Act, leaving gardaí with a difficulty when it came to policing protests.

“Surely, if An Garda Siochána considers there’s been a breach of criminal law, they’re entitled to take action?” asked Judge Paul Gilligan, giving the example of workers being interfered with while installing meters.

“The [water meter] work station area is not a public area for the purposes of the Public Order Act, so it’s only outside the barriers that the act applies,” said Chief Supt Healy.

“So, you can see the difficulty. It’s a ‘Catch-22’ situation we find ourselves in.”

Chief Supt Healy said there were offences under the Water Act concerning interference with contractors, but he said the force had a certain protocol, having consulted with the Director of Public Prosecution.

The judge remarked that there were surely offences where gardaí could exercise their discretion.

“The gardaí can ask a person to move on, but outside the barriers,” replied Chief Supt Healy.

“So, we’re depending on the water services legislation and the punishment is five years. They are arrestable offences.”

On November 5, the High Court granted an order to a water meter installation contractor, GMC Sierra Ltd, establishing a 20m exclusion zone around locations where its employees were installing water meters in Dublin City.

The company secured the order after its lawyers told the High Court that its employees had been harassed and threatened while installing water meters in the Dublin 5 and Dublin 13 areas.

If the court finds that any of the three men at the centre of the hearing were in breach of the court order, it could impose a prison sentence. Mr Justice Gilligan will give his decision tomorrow.


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