84. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider changing the law to make expression of protest a defence to charges of criminal damage. [51660/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): As the Deputy will be aware, the right to protest peacefully is enshrined in the Constitution and under the law. It is an essential part of our democracy. An Garda Síochána, through its human rights-led approach to policing, seeks to uphold and protect the right to freedom of assembly and protest, while also upholding the law and protecting the public and businesses.
Balancing the right to protest with protecting the public and upholding the law is a complex task and the Gardaí review their actions and responses regularly. I am assured by the Commissioner that An Garda Síochána receive detailed training based on a ‘human rights first’ approach to any protest. This approach was also noted by the Policing Authority in its reports on policing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This balance and emphasis on human rights is also reflected in the relevant statutes governing the right to protest and criminal damage, respectively the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 and the Criminal Damage Act 1991. There are no plans to amend the Criminal Damage Act to incorporate a defence of protest.
As the Deputy will be aware, the enforcement of the law, including those governing protest and criminal damage, are strictly operational matters for the Garda Commissioner. As Minister, I have no direct role in them. Furthermore, the decision to prosecute any member of the public for any crime is strictly a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is completely independent in the exercise of her functions. As Minister, I cannot comment on any decision made by the DPP.
Once the DPP has decided to prosecute, the outcome of any such prosecution is decided by the Courts, who are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their functions. As the Deputy will appreciate, I cannot comment on any ongoing Court proceedings or their outcomes.