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Question

18. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the policing of anti-water charges protests in the past month; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7110/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The statutory functions of An Garda Síochána include the preservation of peace and public order, protecting life and property and vindicating the human rights of individuals. Accordingly, Gardaí have attended routinely at water meter installations and protests where it has been necessary to perform these functions.
An Garda Síochána always endeavour as best they can to facilitate peaceful protests and demonstrations. This is clearly evidenced by the many peaceful demonstrations and protests that take place around the country on a variety of issues of public interest, including large demonstrations late last year with regard to water charges. These peaceful and dignified protests are in stark contrast to the other forms of protest against the installation of water meters where a small few have prevented workers from going about their lawful business through intimidation, obstruction and worse behaviour.
I am sure the House will agree that is it always unfortunate when a small number of individuals resort to means other than peaceful ones to express their views or to engage in protest. We have, unfortunately, seen examples of this in respect of some of the protest actions against water charges and the installation of water meters. In this context, the Gardaí are trained to defuse confrontation using a range of proportionate methods appropriate to the circumstances.
I have every confidence that this will continue to be the case.
Let me emphasise that there is also an obligation on the organisers of protest actions to ensure that they do not create situations which they cannot control. Such events can on occasion lead to the danger of breaches of public order. The role of An Garda Síochána in such instances is to ensure, insofar as it is possible, that this does not happen and that other members of the public may go about their lawful business. Indeed, the presence of An Garda Síochána is also essential to ensure the safety of protesters in such circumstances.
Of course, it is open to anyone to complain about the behaviour of an individual member of An Garda Síochána through the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) where they feel that such complaint is warranted. The GSOC is an independent body which was set up to receive complaints made by members of the public concerning allegations of misconduct by members of the Garda Síochána. Any evidence to support these claims should also be brought to the attention of GSOC.