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I hold it a blasphemy to say that a man ought not to fight against authority:
Outrageous Attack On Civil Liberties
On Tuesday 29th January, Kieran Allen a member of the Steering Committee of the Irish Anti-War Movement was fined a total of 1,100 euro for his part in stewarding a protest. He denied any wrong - doing and has protested about attempts to curb his civil liberties. The conviction occurred under Section 6 and Section 8 of the Public Order Act. This case has grave implications for the freedom of assembly that is guaranteed under the Irish Constitution.
The convictions arose out of a protest on the US Embassy on 13th October 2001. At this protest, the Green Party TD John Gormley suggested that Britain was responsible for the war as well as the US. This point met with some approval and the chair of the protest, Richard Boyd Barrett, suggested that there be a march to the British embassy after all the speeches were made.
The Gardai however refused to permit the march to take place. In evidence to the court, one Garda subsequently said that they would only let the crowd go up in small groups on the footpath. As the crowd were already assembling on the road, Kieran Allen, the chief steward went out to get the march to line up in an orderly crowd. He asked them to move in to the inside lane to allow traffic to pass. He insisted several times that the march was a peaceful protest.
The Gardai claim they approached Mr Allen and asked him to leave the area under Section 8 of the Public Order Act. They claim they told him that he was committing a criminal offence and outlined to him the penalties for same - which amounted to six months imprisonment. Witnesses who appeared for the defence claim that the Gardai issued no such caution and did not specify penalties. Kieran Allen also denies he was given such a caution.
During the course of the trial, the Gardai invoked a section of a speech which Kieran Allen made as evidence for his breach of Section 6 of the Public Order Act. They claimed that he called for 'strong and militant resistance' to attempts by the state to curb civil rights. Kieran Allen, Joe Higgins TD, and other witnesses disputed that he used these specific words. The Gardai did not produce any tape recording or claim that they had taken written notes on the speech.
Kieran Allen also argued, through his solicitor, that he had a right to make political arguments and that it was a gross infringement on the right to free speech for sections of it to be taken out of context and used as evidence of 'threatening abusive or insulting behaviour'.
The trial lasted for three days and conflicts of evidence occurred between Garda and civilian witnesses. District Justice Brady did not advance any explanation for how he handled this conflict of evidence. He informed the defendant that he had had the option of pleading guilty and then imposed extremely heavy fines. He also ruled that 3,500 euro must be put up front in cash as a surety if an appeal was to be made.
The Public Order Act
The Public Order Act is a draconian piece of legislation that originated from two sources. First, in 1981 the Supreme Court declared the Vagrancy Act unconstitutional. This act allowed the police to move people on and charge them for 'loitering'. The removal of the vagrancy act was greeted with irritation by those who wished to increase Garda powers. They wanted a replacement piece of legislation. Second, in 1986 a Public Order Act was introduced by the Tory Party in Britain to curb protests in the aftermath of the miners strike. The Progressive Democrats used this legislation as a model to introduce a private members bill in 1993. The previous year there had been large-scale protests over both the X case and the Gulf War. Originally the Justice Minister Geoghegan-Quinn opposed their bill claiming that the British Act 'reflects the extremely serious industrial, racial and other social tensions in Britain in recent decades. We do not have that background here or problems of that scale'.
However a few months afterwards she did an about turn and incorporated elements of the PDs' proposal into their own Bill. Soon after the Public Order Act was introduced, workers at Team Aer Lingus were threatened with its use during their protests over a threatened closure.
Since September 11th 2001, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of the Public Order Act against political protests. Those charged under this act in recent months include: 2 members of the Irish Anti-War Movement; 14 activists from Globalise Resistance; 8 people arrested on a Critical Mass bike day; 2 anti-war campaigners who protested in Shannon; 1 Globalise Resistance member who was lobbying support for Irish activists detained in Genoa.
The provisions of the Public Order Act make it wide open to abuse. These provisions include:· Section 6: Makes it an offence to 'use or engage in threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour'. Even Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael said, during a Dail Debate on its introduction, that 'I could envisage circumstances where political protests or trade union pickets may involve displaying words on placards which may be considered insulting or obscene'.· Section 8: Gives the police virtually unlimited powers to move people on who are 'loitering' or who use 'threatening, abusive or insulting words'. Failure to comply can mean a sentence of 6 months in jail.· Section 14: Defines as a 'riot', a gathering of 12 people or more who have a 'common purpose' to 'threaten to use unlawful violence' It is 'immaterial' whether all the 12 use violence - they can all be branded as involved in a 'riot' which carries a penalty of 10 years in jail.
In October 1999, the Phoenix magazine published the following profile of District Justice Patrick Brady who handed down the draconian fine on Kieran Allen. "The most interesting appointee to the District Court, however, is Patrick L Brady, who although a member of no political party was Mary Harney's nominee. Brady was for many years a partner in McMahon and Tweedy solicitors, along with John Condon. Before that Brady was a priest and ministered to his flock in the Dublin Archdiocese in the 1970s before changing vocations'.
The District Court does not make case law so the police do not have a right to generalise automatically from this case. But as this is the first of many cases facing protestors, it also reveals the new agenda that has become visible since September 11th. Globally, the horrific events of September 11th are being used by political elites to uproot traditional civil liberties. In the US this process has gone furthest with the detention of over 1,000 Arab- Americans and the establishment of military tribunals. The EU is also seeking to re-define terrorism to describe any action that impedes governments actions. Typically, these repressive measures are introduced in a panic over 'terrorism' or 'anti-social behaviour'. But they then become a resource that is used - often largely outside the public gaze - against dissenters and poorer elements in society.
The Irish Anti-War Movement will not be intimidated by these measures. We will instead oppose this new onslaught on civil liberties by informing the public of what is happening in their name. We call on supporters to:
· Raise a resolution of protest in their trade unions, students unions and community organisations. Send details of these resolution to the Irish Anti-War Movement.
· Support a protest outside Old Richmond Hospital Court, North Richmond St at 9.45 on Thursday February 21st when 14 Globalise Resistance supporters face trial.
Raise financial support for the legal defence fund. Send donations to: Irish
Anti War Movement, Bank of Ireland, 34 College Green, Dublin 2. A/C 39640902
sort code 900789.
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