Violent protests which saw gardaí attacked with fireworks and bottles last Saturday, with more planned for this weekend, have sparked an urgent call on the Government to devise safe protest guidelines.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has called for the Minister for Justice to issue guidelines, which they say should both protect the public and An Garda Síochána.
Last Saturday, three gardaí were injured and 24 people were arrested following an anti-lockdown march in Dublin that descended into chaos.
A similar march is planned in Cork this Saturday.
The right to protest does not include a right to violence, and the ICCL said that it condemns all use of violence at protests.
However, peaceful protesters who attend protests which become violent still have a right to protest – so long as they themselves remain peaceful, the ICCL said.
The lack of clear guidelines for peaceful protest was intensifying the "condundrum" for both gardaí and the public, it said.
ICCL’s Head of Legal and Policy Doireann Ansbro said: “Saturday’s events have shown exactly why guidelines for safe and legal protest are needed.
"This would protect people who wish to protest peacefully and safely, and it may also protect gardaí from those who intend to do neither.”
While most people have accepted that restrictions are necessary to stem the spread of Covid-19, a minority disagree, and tensions have been rising throughout lockdown, the ICCL warned.
The body defended the right of everyone to express their views within the law but noted that the law currently appears to ban all protests.
Throughout the pandemic, additional restrictions on gatherings of people may be necessary. However, other states have shown that protests can still be facilitated at this time by using appropriate safeguards, they said.
The right to protest doesn't include violence.— ICCLtweet (@ICCLtweet) March 4, 2021
But peaceful protest is extra important in emergencies & protesters must be allowed to protest safely. Guidelines on safe protest would also help gardaí.
Government should publish guidelines urgently: https://t.co/BPvWtnUUia
Safe and responsible strikes and protests have also been held recently in Ireland, where participants limited their protest size, wore masks and practised social distancing, the ICCL noted.
It called for safe protest to be considered a legitimate excuse to leave home during lockdown.
"At the very heart of democracy is the right to voice concerns, alternative views and dissent.
"This right takes on an even more fundamental importance when we consider the significant impact of public health restrictions on lives and livelihoods across Ireland. Guidelines must be produced immediately," a statement from the ICCL said.