Socialist deputy Ruth Coppinger was at the centre of a bitter Oireachtas row after she complained about a wave of arrests of people in connection with anti-water charge protests in Dublin last November when Tánaiste Joan Burton was trapped in her car by demonstrators for more than two hours.
Ms Coppinger insisted the garda action was politically motivated and when she said the Government had “called out the dogs and called out a repressive policing response”, Fine Gael and Labour TDs erupted in fury, accusing her of insulting officers.
Ms Coppinger hit back saying she had not been referring to gardaí, but using a figure of speech.
As the chamber was convulsed by the row, Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe demanded Ms Coppinger withdrew the remarks.
The Socialist TD refused to do so, insisting she had done nothing wrong, but Mr Kehoe said he would refer the matter to the Committee on Privileges and Procedures which polices behaviour in the Dáil.
Branding the TDs comments a “scurrilous remark”, Mr Kehoe asked deputies during Leaders’ Questions: “Is Deputy Coppinger referring to my family members, who are members of An Garda Síochána as ‘dogs’?”
Ms Coppinger accused the Government benches of manufacturing the row to deflect attention from her concerns about the nature of the Garda operation in recent days.
She also insisted her anti-austerity colleague Paul Murphy has been “manhandled” during the incident in Jobstown, west Dublin, last autumn.
Ms Coppinger complained about a series of garda swoops, which included the arrest of Mr Murphy, who was later released without charge.
“Ordinary men and women, and children in legal terms, have been arrested in front of their families and neighbours as well as three elected representatives for the Anti-Austerity Alliance,” Ms Coppinger said.
She made her “dogs” comment in relation to how former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Charlie Haughey had dealt with protests by students in which their cars were impeded and verbal abuse was hurled at them, as she claimed they had accepted it as part of political protests.
Ms Burton said the TD should withdraw the “dogs” remark as gardaí served the community and some had died in the line of duty.
“The gardaí do not deserve to be spoken of in those terms,” the Tánaiste said.