The suggestion by Charlie Flanagan, the hardline Minister for Justice and Equality, that he would favour legislation banning the photographing or recording of members of An Garda Síochána while on duty has drawn considerable negative comment in the press and on social media. During an interview with Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1, the Fine Gael TD was quizzed about the recent shocking images of gardaí – their faces hidden behind balaclavas – protecting masked men acting on behalf of a landlord in Dublin’s city centre as they cut and smashed their way into a property which had been occupied by housing activists on North Frederick Street. When asked if he would consider new laws preventing the taking and publication of such images by the general public, he replied:
“Yes, I think it is something that can be favourably looked at.”
Aside from the practicalities of enforcing such a rule, restricting the observation and reporting of law enforcement would be a hugely retrograde step, taking us back to the historical era of the United Kingdom’s colonial gendarmerie in Ireland, the Royal Irish Constabulary. Which is why the minister tried to soft soap his words in a subsequent statement on Twitter:
“Today I was asked if it should be illegal to photograph Gardaí carrying out their duties. To clarify: I believe transparency is vitally important; I’m on record as favouring Garda body cameras. I also greatly value the role of the media in providing objective reporting.
However, I am concerned about the public order dimension of Gardaí having multiple mobile phones in their faces as they try to go about their policing duties. In my experience, press photographers are professional & do not impede Garda work.
This is regrettably not always the case where public order issues arise. The uploading of images of Gardaí undertaking their duties on social media and consequent threats and intimidation is totally unacceptable to me and that why I am concerned”
The truth, of course, is that existing legislation covers all of the areas of concern expressed by Charlie Flanagan. Impeding a garda in the course of his or her lawful duties is an offence. Publishing the photo, name and address of a garda while advocating or encouraging harm or harassment is an offence. So what purpose would any new laws serve beyond prohibiting the ability of citizens to monitor and report on the activities or behaviour of the guardians of law and order in their republic?