Next month a senator will introduce a bill in the Seanad that, if passed, will ban protests outside peoples’ homes. Senator Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil says he’s initiating the bill as a result of the ongoing protests outside the homes of politicians and public figures. Speaking with Breakingnews.ie he revealed it’s “something we have been looking at for a while”. But that extremists targeting people at their homes has “accelerated” the process.
The right to protest “comes with responsibilities”
The Protection of Private Residences (Against Targeted Picketing) Bill 2021 will make it an offence for a person who “organises or engages in” a protest within 200 metres of a “residential dwelling”. According to the text of the bill targeting is defined as directing “something at a particular person or group or activity and includes a picket or protest activity that is targeted at an individual who is believed to reside in a particular residential dwelling”.
Anyone found guilty of an offence under the proposed legislation will, on conviction, face a Class D fine of a maximum of €1,000. For second or subsequent offences the bill proposes a prison sentence “not exceeding 12 months”, a fine, or both.
Senator Byrne has said that while protest is a part of society people should know better than to hold demonstrations outside an individual’s home. He also noted that some of these gatherings have become “less peaceful”. And, as a result, “there are obviously causes for concern”.
In an email the senator told The Beacon he wanted to “make clear” that he’s “strongly supportive of the right to peaceful protest”. But that this right “also comes with responsibilities”. And, with this in mind, protest outside “a person’s home should be off limits”.
But Doireann Ansbro of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has questioned the need for the bill. While appearing on Today FM she told Byrne and host Matt Cooper there are situations where protest can be limited. But when it comes to the proposed bill she said the ICCL is “highly concerned” about it. And that enough legislation already exists “to deal with the problematic protests”.
In recent weeks anti-vaccination and far-right protestors have gathered outside the homes of tánaiste Leo Varadkar, head of Ireland’s COVID-19 response Dr. Tony Holohan, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, and journalist Joe Duffy. Regularly attending the protests are a number of well-known extremists.
Included in this is Galway man Dara O’Flaherty, whom gardaí recently arrested after he appeared to run into the Australian embassy in Dublin during an anti-lockdown protest. Gardaí also arrested him in March after he breached security at the Dáil. O’Flaherty regularly posts videos on his Facebook account in which he claims members of the government and public figures will be held to account for their supposed crimes.
Earlier this month he warned “There’s no hiding from us” and that he and his compatriots will also focus on friends and family members of their targets.
Another regular attendee is Graham Carey. At a protest outside Varadkar’s Dublin home Carey was recorded making a number of homophobic remarks about the Fine Gael leader. He also suggested that the tánaiste is involved in paedophilia.
These videos are still available on Facebook at the time of writing.
Senator Byrne has previously drawn attention to Facebook, arguing it puts “company above country and, in many ways, above ethics”. He called for social media companies to be “properly regulated” given that the problems they cause “pose some of the greatest threats to society and to our democracy”.
This article was updated on 28 October to include a quote from a spokesperson for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
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