15 March 2001 Edition

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Dublin threatens GPO protest ban

Dublin City Council proposed last Monday to restrict the right to assemble and to protest at the GPO in Dublin's O'Connell Street.

This astonishing proposal to curtail the most basic of democratic civil rights, that of freedom of assembly, was proposed by Dublin Corporation management to an area council meeting in Dublin. The officials propose to outlaw all spontaneous demonstrations, meetings, parades and protests that might be held in O'Connell Street.

The Corporation proposes new bye laws under which parades and meetings will not be permitted unless an application for the assembly is lodged 31 days in advance. The bye law would require a deposit of £2,000 to be lodged if over 50 people are expected to attend, with a £3 million insurance indemnity bond required if more than 300 people were expected to take part.

Organisers would have to submit management plans for traffic, an event management plan, a safety statement, cleansing arrangements and arrangements for access for emergency vehicles. Sound must not exceed noise levels of 80 decibels for any longer than fifteen minutes. Normal traffic sound is 70 decibels.

The proposal emanates from a project group within the Corporation, the O'Connell Street Integrated Plan, which has £40 million to spend on giving O'Connell Street a face-lift. The proposal was put by Kieran McNamara on behalf of this project, to the Council's South East Area Committee (SEAC), one of the area groups that meet to deal with local issues in the city.

Betty Clancy, who chairs the South East Area Committee explained that the objective of the proposal was "to control public marches and gatherings so they do not disrupt business and traffic".

Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O'Toole, who attended Monday's meeting, was outraged. "How dare the council officials put such a proposal before councillors. Freedom of Assembly is the most basic of civil rights. Who are these corporation officials with the temerity to suggest this right be taken away?

The right of protest in O'Connell Street has been a part of our history from the days of Daniel O'Connell, through the lockouts in 1913, and Larkin. Since the Proclamation, 1916, the GPO has rightly become the centre to assemble for all public protest by trade unionists, communities, the H-Block hunger strike marches, anti racist groups, in fact all and every group which sees their rights threatened or denied. The GPO is our very history.

"I think it astounding that Dublin Corporation officials should profer such a proposal, or consider this fundamental civil right as akin to so much litter that needs cleaned off our streets to facilitate big business and traffic flow.

"At Monday's meeting, three Labour Party councillors spoke. To my amazement, far from support for my outright condemnation of the council's proposal, each took the view that some protests were bad, and could be banned, and some others were not so bad."

The SEAC decided to refer the proposed bye laws to the full Dublin Council for its consideration.

An Phoblacht
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