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Human Rights in Ireland >>
A Coppers view of May Day
summit mobilisations |
Thursday May 27, 2004 13:49 by GGer
What the 'Boys/Girls in Blue' thought of the build up to Mayday and the day itself.
I thought people might have an interest in this. It is taken from the highly stimulating mag Garda Review pages 31`-35 ('The Force magazine since 1923').
Its not available online and even though I am sure certain readers of Indymedia are subscribers, I would say most are not.
May Day has always been of historical significance and nearly always controversial, but it never held so much significance for An Garda Síochána as this year. June Caldwell finds out why.
May 1st, International Workers Day, has taken many different forms over the centuries. The modern celebration of Mayday as a working class holiday evolved from the struggle for the eight-hour workday in 1886. If the original May Day, in Pagan times, was not outlawed by the Catholic Church, it may have turned into a traditional day of fighting against authority. The theme of challenging those in authority continues with the anti-globalisation and anarchist movements involved in May Day actions, protests and demonstrations throughout the world. In recent times, with the expansion of globalisation and world trade, May Day has progressed into one of the most notorious days of the year.
May Day 2004
The day held a further significance for An Garda Síochána in 2004; not only was it a normal May Day policing operation, but it was also the most historical day in the EU in the last 20 years; Accession Day. Water cannons were used for the first time in the capital when anti-globalisation protesters clashed with police outside the Phoenix Park, where heads of states from across Europe were celebrating the accession of ten new member states to the European Union.
More than 5,000 Gardaí and 2,500 troops were deployed in Dublin in anticipation of trouble from anti-globalisation protesters who were travelling from abroad. For the most part, the marchers were good-natured and in high spirits. But some 20 activists, wearing balaclavas and scarves appeared intent on trouble. One Garda was injured in the fracas that ensued. However the Gardaí managed to control of the situation and the protesters were driven back into the city centre where they eventually dispersed. In total, there were 29 arrests, and a number of other ‘minor’ incidents. Now Gardaí are bracing themselves for a second round of riots to coincide with the arrival of President George W. Bush in Ireland at the end of June.
Preparations for May Day, Dublin, 2004 could not have been more urgent for An Garda Síochána, or more clandestine. The Garda Press Office was understandably reticent about giving out information beforehand – possibly fearing too much media coverage would direct protesters into action rather than placate. The media reported that armed Gardaí would patrol the streets of every Dublin City Garda district as part of the unprecedented security operation to combat violent protests. There would be water cannons on standby (for the first time), and additional surveillance mounted on ports hotels, and guesthouses, etc. Also, a record number of officers – more than half the force – would be on duty. All Garda leave was cancelled.
A special Garda unit in Harcourt Square in Dublin gathered intelligence mainly from Internet sites run by anarchist and anti-globalisation groups to see what preparations for ‘demonstrations’ would take place. Also details of known activists were circulated. Other unprecedented moves were made. A special detention centre was set up and arrangements for special ‘court sittings’ over the bank holiday were cleared. A prison wing to accommodate nearly 100 prisoners in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin, was cleared to free up cells in case large numbers of protesters needed to be detained.
Training began in January 2003, not just for the May Day but also for all future large-scale events. The specific “training days” for May Day were the largest ever conducted and involved the Public Order Unit, Mounted Unit, Dog Unit and Air Support Unit. Training started at 10am and continued until 4pm, and involved various manoeuvres and exercises designed to teach participants how to cope with crowd conflict and demonstrators. Training for the use of water cannons also took place at Gormanstown, Co. Meath. An extra 500 officers in riot gear would back up troops at the Accession celebrations, and a further 500 were deployed to seal off Baldonnel airbase and Dublin airport. In short, a massive security operation.
Given events in recent years, it is no surprise that An Garda Síochána had to prepare so voraciously. A recent Garda Review editorial, pointed out the rise in violence against police European wide: ‘Switzerland has experienced a rise of 51% in the number of assaults and attacks on members of its police force’, it states. ‘Statistically nearly every police officer in England and Wales was injured more than once between 1992 and 2002. After the EU summit in Gothenburg in 2001, 25% of the officers deployed on the ground were injured. Do we need these types of statistics here? Only then would it reinforce the view that we should have taken a more definitive position in policing.’
A prime concern of the GRA prior to May Day was the safety of Gardaí carrying out their duties. The GRA was concerned with the “adequate and timely provision of resources to its members – and the organisation of those resources in policing on of the biggest events in Europe this year”. The Association addressed the concerns in the proper forum with Garda management in the hope that concerns of members would be addressed and due consideration given to the task that faces Irish police on such a substantial occasion.
PJ Stone, in a press statement prior to May Day said, “We are particularly concerned by the issue of health and safety of our members this weekend. Our members feel that the approach by Garda management in planning for this weekend should have involved the GRA so that the legitimate concerns of our members could have been adequately addressed”.
It is also called into question plans to use unarmed Gardaí on front-line riot duty without any proper protective clothing or shields, saying no other police force in the EU would deploy officers in this manner. Mr Stone added that violent protesters responsible for anti-globalisation riots at a G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, in 2001, which left one protester dead and 1,000 police officers injured, could well be planning to come to Ireland for the celebration, and how, in this context would officers adequately protect themselves?
Superintendent Mick Feehan is based at the Community Relations Section at Harcourt Street, with responsibility for crime prevention and community policing. He has also been involved with the Public Order Unit for the last 15 years, and spoke to Garda Review about exactly what was entailed in this year’s operation.
“I was involved in the Public Order Planning operations for the May Day weekend this year, but I was also involved in pulling together the entire logistics with the Assistant Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Area,” he explains. “It was a mammoth operation logistically, and took months to organise. Not only had we to act on every ounce of intelligence beforehand, but we also had to ensure the safety of members of An Garda Síochána, and even down to the issues of how and where to feed members on the day. All of it took an unprecedented amount of organising. Every single Garda had to know exactly where to go and what was expected of them, and how to respond to ‘any’ situation should it arise. This meant that every single person had to be briefed beforehand.
“After deciding on exact numbers etc., we worked with Human Resources Management (HRM) to sort out transportation and accommodation issues for Gardaí travelling from around the country. We block-booked whole hotels around the city, and organised all the periphery de-briefing scenarios to accompany that.
“This was a historic day in Europe and in Irish terms it was the biggest event in the European Union in the last two decades. Not only did this mean stringent security measures for visiting dignitaries, but also, we were very cognisant of the right of the public to protest and the democratic operation, the total balance needed.”
The challenge for An Garda Síochána was manifold. How do you follow up on intelligence, manage security, and protect visitors, Gardaí, the public and property, while also allowing for protests to take place? For instance, what would happen if a group of protesters managed to climb into the Phoenix Park during the course of the ceremony itself?
It called for a ‘graduated response. “This meant whatever response we took to whatever situation must be proportional to what we were facing. For instance, an initial response to protests meant that protesters would first face a line-up of ‘ordinary Gardaí’, meaning soft caps, yellow jackets, normal policing practice, etc. Riot police were not to be involved, unless there was a riot. There is no point adding to the apprehension by assuming riot police were needed. If that was not sufficient in meeting what we were being faced with, or if we were likely to fail in our responsibility towards life and property, we would have to graduate upwards. On the day that is exactly what happened. We did stop a protest within striking distance of the Phoenix Park. We had knowledge that some of the protesters had ‘armed themselves’ what’s known as ‘self armour’, bottles and so on.”
Two years ago the Commissioner recognised there was a need to build the organisational capability for dealing with the situations of violent disorder. For the first time ever, this involved training all management within the Gardaí for a specific purpose, from Superintendents through to inspectors, etc. It was a way of up-skilling and providing Gardaí with new criteria and new practices to meet the needs of large-scale events. “The whole objective was to put in place, a professional public order capability in all the regions throughout the State,” he says. “This required huge investment in training and equipment. I briefed the whole public order unit, 950 people in total. It meant that everybody involved could fit seamlessly together in responding to whatever happened on the day. We looked at international best practice and some of us had the opportunity of training abroad also.
“We don’t deploy public order units on a daily basis. It was an enormous event. It would’ve been grossly irresponsible if we were not in a position to deal with any eventuality. Our core function is the protection of life and property. We were not depending on articles in the newspaper on a proportionate response. Our response was intelligence driven. It was a core part of our thinking in our planning for this operation, that we would protect everybody including ourselves. Our emergency plan covered every eventuality, and was multi-agency, involved health authorities and other organisations.
Dawning Of The Day
When the day arrived, Mick Feehan described it as “very intense”. There was a final briefing the day before, Friday… “Everyone knew where they were going and what was expected of them,” he says. “We were out very early on Friday morning. Food stations were organised in the Park and members were told when and how they could take breaks, etc. We were hooked up to a command centre w here a downlink from the helicopter service displayed on video, all the hotspots around the City where crowds had gathered. Members were also in touch with the command centre by radio. The helicopter downlink meant that we could clearly see if missiles were being thrown, and when exactly we had to deploy the public order unit people as a defensive line initially.
“A 2,000-strong crowd gathered at O’Connell Street and made their way up to the Phoenix Park. At a certain point in time, we could clearly see that the Gardaí were taking a lot of flak. There was an organised wedge of people, who had homemade body armour, and we could see this wedge welling up, it was definitely ‘organised’. With the level of violence that was raining down on the Gardaí at a certain point, we decided to deploy the Public Order Unit at Farmleigh.
“It is important to stress that other protests took place without any trouble at all. Even prior to the event, we met with organisers to suggest locations where protests might take place. We felt there was a suitable open area in front of Heuston and organised that the area be cleaned up and cleared for use by protestors. The whole area was cleaned for them and passed off peacefully. What happened at Farmleigh was a specific contingent who were intent on causing trouble”.
As Feehan explains, May Day 2004 did have its moments. Some protesters hurled missiles, including a petrol bomb, as they attempted to enter the historic summit in Dublin. Ten officers were injured.
In the aftermath Gardaí found a live shotgun cartridge lying on the roadway. The Cartridge was found along with rocks, bottles and other missiles thrown at Gardaí. The cartridge was taken away to be technically examined. No one was severely injured and no major catastrophic events took place, but that is no indication for what An Garda Síochána will soon face again.
“At the moment we are engaged in a series of de-briefing sessions ‘after the fact’ so that every action and move made is thoroughly analysed. This is essential so that whatever we learn from the event, in terms of planning and the day itself, will be of value for future events. Our training is ongoing, and we have now built our capability, so we are confident that whatever situation arise that the same principles will apply as it did for the May weekend.’
Preparing For Bush
Gardaí are now mounting another large security operation for the Bush visit. An advance party of US Secret Service agents is due in Ireland in the coming weeks to finalise security arrangements for the visit. As with May Day every eventuality will be examined and re-examined, even down to the very ‘real’ threat of terrorist action. Garda Special Branch files on more than 300 suspected Islamic fundamentalists are being scrutinised and further intelligence is being looked into.
Detectives stressed that they have no intelligence to indicate that Islamic fundamentalists are planning an attack to coincide with the Bush visit. A team of 30 US officials have also examined the area in and around Dromoland Castle, near Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co. Clare, where Bush is scheduled to stay on the night of June 25. The White House has informed the government that a party of up to 800, including the presidential staff and reporters, will accompany Bush in three Boeing 747s arriving on June 25.
While Gardaí maintain that the Bush visit will not involve the same numbers that took part on May Day, there will be ultimately be sufficient numbers to cope with every eventuality. “One thing that has not come across in the media at all… is that all officers involved in the Public Order Unit on May Day were volunteers,” concludes Feehan. “They chose to work themselves and were committed to protecting the public from harms way. Training for these large-scale events has ultimately changed the way policing is done in this country, and we feel confident that we can face any challenge the future may bring”. GR
GARDA REVIEW – EDITORIAL (Page 3)
A Job Well Done
The Garda Síochána can be immediately proud in the manner it handled policing over May Day Bank Holiday weekend. Despite the fact that some people had suggested that there would be no trouble and the Garda Síochána were overreacting to policing requirements – we have proved, yet again, that we have the capacity and the ability to deal with any policing situation once we are given the appropriate resources; and that necessary training and planning is put into the event at the outset.
While the Staff Associations might have had difficulties with the procedural and logistical arrangements of transfers and the lack of advance information; it is fair to compliment Garda management on the prompt response arrangements made to bring in the Public Order Unit to deal with people who had the intent to create mayhem and trouble. This quick response was necessary to ensure that these people were not given the foothold to create further problems. The professionalism of the Garda Síochána in dealing with this cannot be overstated.
The very essence of policing was tested. Members of the Force who would have like to spend the weekend with their families were transferred to Dublin to ensure that the celebrations went off without hitch – clearly emphasising once again the flexibility and adaptability of members of the Garda Síochána to deal with any situation. This was not reflected in any editorial comment or otherwise by the media – other than to begrudgingly admit that the Garda Síochána could not have done better in the policing arrangements. It further showed the professionalism of the Force.
We applaud our colleagues involved in the operation and we are immensely proud of their contribution in ensuring that Ireland was seen as a country in all its beauty on the world stage – and possessing a police force which is capable of doing the job in any conditions. We are of the view that the Garda Commissioner and his senior personnel need to be complemented in the immediate strategic deployment of the public order unit – and that thankfully only one member of the Garda Siochana was injured in the affray. We wish her a speedy and complete recovery
We hope and expect that the necessary planning and logistical deployment of personnel will continue for the visit of George W Bush and, as stated, the Associations have difficulties regarding some of the requirements and duty details essential for such events. We would sincerely hope that that we are afforded the opportunity to get actively involved and that members are advised in good time of all the necessary policing requirements for the visit of Mr Bus. Members must not be left in limbo until the last minute.
No doubt people will now the visit of Mr George W Bush to organise protests and to exercise their democratic rights – something cherished by the Constitution and which is wholeheartedly supported by the vast majority of the people in this country; to allow people to protest in a peaceful manner. However, we must be conscious that there are elements which participate in such protests whose intent is only to cause the maximum destruction and mayhem. We should look at some of the planning inot that event and capitalise on our experience for the visit of Mr Bush and police this visit with the same professionalism. We exhort all concerned to work together in a partnership approach so that the interests of the members of the Force are served as well as the interest of the members of the public. We can than all look forward to a quieter year ahead – with the European and World spotlight being taken off Ireland – at the end of the EU presidency.
It is only fitting to applaud and congratulate all members of the Garda Siochana involved in this operation and to say a sincere thank you for all your dedication and commitment and to your selfless and tireless approach to ensuring that the rest of us can enjoy weekends similar to May Day.