Ireland – On Friday, August 28th the Irish Daily Mail reported on its front page that the Irish Police, An Gardaí have been tracking the whereabouts and online activity of Irish Water protesters. Under the code name Operation Mizen a number of Gardaí have been gathering intelligence and building profiles on a large number of protesters some of whom they consider possible leaders of the movement, over the past six months.
Detective Super Intendent Jim McGowan husband of Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan has been appointed by his wife to run the invasive Operation Mizen. It has also been revealed that some Gardai are now wearing body cameras worth €700 each in order to gather intelligence on water protesters at protests and rallies. The most disturbing element to this is Gardai tracking the whereabouts of protesters when the time between large protests is sometimes six weeks.
Since the information on the operation was released protesters, TD’s and members of the public alike are outraged at the breach of privacy. One of the people said to be a focus of the Operation, an opposition TD along with two of his peers have written to the Minister for Justice demanding she call a halt to the Operation. The complaint says “It is quite shocking to learn from today’s Daily Mail that a Special Unit of the Garda Siochana operating under the name Operation Mizen has been spying on anti water charges campaign activists “compiling profiles and gathering intelligence on their whereabouts” ” And goes on to state the practice is “a most serious development” and that is “raises fundamental questions as to the interference of the Garda in the political life of the State.”
The appointment of Jim McGowan to oversee Operation Mizen is a cause for considerable concern as he seems to be appointed to a number of cases that are a direct cause for criticism directed at his wife. He has also been appointed to head up an investigation of leaks from Gardai to journalists. The consequence of one such leak was a large number of Irish Water protesters finding out about their impending charges from the media rather than the authorities and an official complaint being lodged getting sizable negative media attention. A considerable number of those activists have yet to be informed of their charges by Gardai and are living with the impending knock on the door hanging over them. Jim McGowan, the Commissioner’s husband is now investigating the source of that leak as well as another leak that informed the media of children who had been removed from their Roma parents because of their blonde haired and light eye colouring. The Gardai thought the children might have been kidnapped by their parents, but eventually returned them, this happened to more than one family and is considered an example of racism in the force.
Since political policing took hold in Ireland numerous arrests have taken place and more are ongoing. The Gardaí undertook a campaign on early morning raids tearing families away from each other for nothing more than engaging in their democratic right to protest. The will of the state to use political policing has not gone unmentioned in the parliament buildings in one interaction in Dáil Eireann an opposition TD openly stated to the Prime Minister Taoiseach Enda Kenny “You have no appetite for change. You like the fact that policing is still politicised in Ireland and you’re going to keep it that way, and you no more than the Garda Commissioner wants to change things, neither do you.”
Garda brutality towards protesters is now common knowledge throughout the population with stories and videos going viral regularly including one of a young woman being thrown into a bollard and a young man being seriously assaulted then having a epileptic fit.
In one instance a large group of protesters had gathered peacefully at the gates of the parliament building at a large rally when Gardai began to push and beat people back suddenly and for no apparent reason. Protesters were beaten so the car of an EX minister and opponent of the movement was driven through the rally even though there was another exit the protesters had left clear for the comings and goings of the people inside. He called the protesters “fascist” during the incident.
On another date the Gardaí acted upon false intelligence that an Irish Water protest was taking place at the parliament building. Quickly riot barriers were installed around the area, hundreds of Gardaí some in riot gear others on horseback were sent into the area and lined the front entrance of Dail Eireann. Only a handful of people showed up for what in reality was a Justice protest. Meanwhile a group of Irish Water protesters shut down an Irish Water depo preventing the vehicles and equipment inside from installing any water meters that day. Media picked up on the story and it was a massive embarrassment to an Gardaí particularly because, only last year the then Mayor of Dublin spoke out about the damage being done by over policing. In a meeting former Mayor of Dublin is reported to have said “I am concerned about the impact this could have on community Garda relations. I am also concerned that at a time when we don’t have sufficient Gardai to respond to crimes, between 20 and 30 Gardai a time are being deployed on single streets to assist Irish Water.”
One IrishWater protester told us : “It is scary now that we know the Gardaí are protecting a corrupt system, they are beating us for it and we don’t know if the people outside of Ireland even know about it. It’s even more terrifying that the Gardaí would actually co-ordinate against us though political policing but now they are spying on where we go too? The funny thing is they seem to be looking for the “leader” of the movement, they even tried to make Paul Murphy a TD look like the leader but there is no leader at all! This is a headless movement and it has grown naturally over the years to what it is today. There are so many sides to it beyond the national demonstrations including the removal of water meters, the prevention of installations of water meters, the national boycott, the direct actions like showing up at events they attend and banner drops from motorway bridges. We won’t stop any time soon, no matter how they try and scare us or make us look like monsters. They are the monsters. We are sisters and Mams and Dads and little brothers, we see that our country has totally lost its path and we need to put it right. This is about more than water and I think they are trying to stop the protest opening the discussion about what we want to do next. I for one want to know if there is a better kind of democracy for Ireland.”
Related Links and media
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Mick Wallace discussing Garda Malpractice with Taoiseach Enda Kenny