IRELAND: Men in balaclavas criticised during eviction of activists at occupied Dublin property

( A group of men arrived at the property at 34 North Frederick Street to remove the activists yesterday evening.

THE ACTIONS OF gardaí and a group of men wearing balaclavas have been described as “a heavy-handed overreaction” after housing activists were removed from a vacant house last night on North Frederick Street in Dublin resulting in the arrest of five people.

The Take Back the City (TBTC) group has criticised the men wearing balaclavas for not wearing identification during the eviction and the gardaí for backing them up.

The men arrived at the property in Dublin city centre just before 7pm last night to remove the activists, who had been defying a court order to remain in the building.

Justice Michael Quinn granted Patricia Ní Greil, the owner of 34 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1, injunctions requiring persons unknown to vacate and cease trespassing and get out of the four-storey building on 28 August.

A spokesperson for TBTC said that a van without a registration plate at its front and a UK registration number at its rear pulled up outside 34 North Frederick Street with 15 to 20 men.

The spokesperson noted that none of these men were wearing any identification to indicate the name of their employer.

It is understood that the men in balaclavas who weren’t gardaí were hired as private contractors by the landlords, and that they were wearing balaclavas as previously they have been subject to intimidation and threats because of the nature of their work.

It is also understood that the absence of a registration plate on the van was a security measure to ensure that identifying factors were not present on the vehicle.

Shortly after the arrival of the men, three members of An Garda Siochána attended the scene. As a crowd gathered outside the building to protest the eviction, members of the garda public order unit were dispatched to the scene.

The activist group has said that physical force was used against a number of attendees while five activists were arrested.

A member of An Garda Síochána from a minority community was racially abused at the scene last night, it is understood.

Commenting on the arrest of the five protestors, Green Party Justice spokesperson, Roderic O’Gorman said that it was alarming to see that a protest seeking to highlight the serious housing crisis in the city was policed in this manner.

It is unsettling to see gardaí policing a protest in balaclavas.

“It sets out a highly confrontational tone and is the exact opposite of the openness and transparency in policing that we should expect from An Garda Síochána. The gardaí must examine the tactics that have been employed here,” O’Gorman said.

‘Heavy-handed overreaction’

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Sinn Féin justice spokesperson said that the accounts of the incident that he has heard gave “an impression of a heavy-handed overreaction to a peaceful housing occupation”.

“I have received reports of private security arriving in unmarked cars and also reports of protestors being threatened with pepper spray. I have also received reports of an injured protester.

If these accounts prove to be correct, then this constitutes an absolutely disproportionate response.

The new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Minister for Justice need to explain properly the “heavy-handed” tactics used by the gardaí according to Labour Justice spokesperson, Séan Sherlock.

“While we must respect court decisions, the tactics used in removing peaceful protesters who occupied a property on North Frederick Street that had lain empty for a number years must be explained.

“The Commissioner should outline how this operation was coordinated and at whose request and why such military-style tactics were used. Further, I would expect the Minister for Justice to comment on the type of tactics used, and whether he supports this type of intimidatory policing, and if he is comfortable with men in balaclavas carrying out forced evictions,” Sherlock said in a statement.

Commenting on yesterday’s eviction a garda spokesperson said that the only role of the gardaí was to prevent a breach of the peace.

“The eviction itself was peaceful. However, a large crowd gathered on the street and five people, one woman and four men, were subsequently arrested for public order offences and assaults on garda members,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

A statement from An Garda Síochána later added that it “respects the rights of people to protest peacefully”.

“An Garda Síochána’s role at such events is to facilitate peaceful protest while protecting the rights of individuals to do their lawful work safely – in this case carrying out an order of the High Court. Our objective with any such operation is to ensure the safety of the public,” it said.

Two charged 

Following the eviction, the property was boarded up while 100 activists subsequently stood outside the building to chant in protest at the eviction, before marching down O’Connell Street towards Store Street Garda Station.

The crowd chanted anti-government and anti-Fianna Fáil slogans while also demanding for the release of the activists held inside. A number of them were released following the group’s arrival at Store Street Garda Station.

Two activists have been charged and are to appear in court on 2 October.

Adult cautions were issued to two of the other activists while the last one was released without charge.

A rally is due to take place later today with details to be announced on the TBTC Facebook page.