Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said gardaí policing a property repossession on Tuesday “showed restraint” in the face of physical and verbal abuse, but said the way in which face-covering hoods were used by the Public Order Unit was “not correct”.
In his first public statement in response to the policing controversy, the commissioner acknowledged concerns regarding the hoods, but only in the sense that they should have been worn with a helmet.
He did not accept claims by politicians of “heavy-handed tactics” and “military-style” policing and, from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), of “disproportionate tactics”.
His statement came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he, like a lot of people, “didn’t like to see a private security firm in balaclavas”.
The men, acting for a landlord in executing a High Court order to repossess a property on Dublin’s North Frederick St, were captured on video and camera wearing balaclavas. Members of the Public Order Unit wore ski masks.
Mr Harris said An Garda Síochána respected the right of people to protest peacefully and that its role was to facilitate protest while protecting the right of others to do lawful work “safely”. He said a “graduated approach” was taken to policing of the event on Tuesday, and that at the start, “three community policing officers” attended.
As the atmosphere at the event grew more tense, a small number of public order officers were deployed to ensure public safety,” he said.
“The use of a fire-retardant hood by public order officers is a matter for the operational commander on the ground and is designed to protect the safety of our members based on a risk assessment.
“However, the form of dress used at the event was not correct as it is policy that if it is deemed necessary to use the hood then it should be used in tandem with a protective helmet.
A directive has issued today from deputy commissioner, Policing and Security, to reinforce this requirement to all personnel.
Mr Harris said those who occupied the building left it peacefully, but a small crowd failed to leave the area and five people were arrested.
A number of protesters were hospitalised for injuries received during the repossession.
The commissioner said he has requested a report from the Dublin assistant commissioner “to see what lessons can be learnt”.
Last night, the ICCL tweeted: “We welcome Commissioner Harris’ statement that the use of balaclavas by gardaí at Frederick St was not correct. We’re heartened that he has requested a report from Asst Commissioner Pat Leahy and ask that it be made public.”