Pat Flanagan column: Gardai running the risk of turning into proxy bailiffs
You do not have to be in the least bit radical to feel great unease about your police force overseeing masked private security men force their way into a home or other occupied premises
- 14:26, 29 OCT 2021
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Those who had their emergency calls to gardai cancelled recently might have fared better had they claimed they were a developer with hired security engaged in an eviction.
Instead of waiting for the help that never came, a half dozen squad cars, a platoon of officers and the Garda helicopter would have come to the rescue.
The scenes during an eviction in the Stoneybatter area of Dublin on Wednesday do little for the already tarnished rep-utation of An Garda Siochana.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs, the optics are dreadful for the force which is being perceived as eviction overseers rather than keepers of the peace.
Gardai are increasingly seen as auxiliary bailiffs, whose first duty it is to protect the developers’ interests and their privately-hired security rather than the public.
The latest show of support for the bailiffs comes just a week after it was revealed that gardai are continuing to cancel and misclassify 999 calls.
According to RTE News, the number of these emergency calls that have been cancelled is in the thousands. Many of these unanswered pleas for help came from women suffering domestic violence.
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Ordinary folk walking around the country’s lawless streets at night might also wonder how a developer can muster a large force of gardai when there’s seldom an officer on the beat to protect them.
The public cannot help but make the contrast between their rights and those of the property owners.
You do not have to be in the least bit radical to feel great unease about your police force overseeing masked private security men force their way into a home or other occupied premises.
This is exactly what happened last year when a gang of hired security smashed their way into a house in Phibsborough, North Dublin.
Because of this country’s painful history of landlordism, evictions are emotive and are especially so during an acute housing and homelessness crisis.
Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon described the scenes in Stoneybatter as “appalling” claiming it was “a violent eviction” where a group of men “showed up to carry out a violent eviction and to ensure a building in the city was made uninhabitable”.
He added: “Once again the gardai appear to have allocated significant manpower and resources to aid the process of eviction and allow a scenario where people’s properties could be destroyed without consequence.”
The Dublin deputy said he has brought up the matter with Garda chiefs as to how so much resources can be allocated for evictions when there are so few dedicated to the city centre. But the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has claimed there is “no legal basis” for gardai to facilitate private evictions saying it as a civil matter unless there is criminal behaviour.
Calling for new gardai guidelines, the council said: “ICCL and the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) have been asking questions about garda policy around private evictions for years.
In a statement about the incident, gardai said officers were on the scene “where a property owner, in compliance with a court order, was securing a premises and facilitating access to persons to remove personal items”.
There are many people around the country who have court orders, especially barring orders, who cannot get them enforced… even if the person named on it is breaking into their home.
There is a growing perception that the forces of law and order and the State are on the side of property and it doesn’t help that our constitution makes it so.
Two years ago, Commissioner Drew Harris told a meeting of the Policing Authority that gardai learned lessons from evictions after clashes outside a property in Dublin’s North Frederick Street.
He said gardai were taking a more proactive approach in saying when and how a court order was executed.
The lesson the public will take from Wednesday’s events is that nothing has changed and the gardai are in danger of becoming proxy bailiffs.
Commissioner Harris might also explain how his force can muster a small army to come to the aid of a developer evicting someone from their property yet cancels calls from women being assaulted in their homes. It would appear the owner of properties like Vulture Funds gets top Garda Priority?