Seanad chair calls for 'sterile area' around Leinster House after protests

Seanad Chair Calls For 'Sterile Area' Around Leinster House After Protests
The protest on Wednesday was an attack on democracy, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. Photo: Collins
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Vivienne Clarke

The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Senator Jerry Buttimer has called for a "sterile area" around Leinster House to protect members of staff.

"My concern is for members of staff, those who work in the parliamentary community of Leinster House and members, and yesterday, members of staff were prevented from doing their work and from carrying out their duties.


"We live in a republic and the ballot box is our answer to those people.

"Yes, you can give people a mandate or not. So what I will say to the review is that the area around Merrion Square, Long Street, that area, the area on Kildare Street, Molesworth Street, there should be a sterile area where members of the Oireachtas and staff can move freely in and out.”

The protest on Wednesday was an attack on democracy, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. "It wasn't about a political party or a government."

"It was about everybody. It was about institutions of the State. And that is why we as parliamentarians, but also those of us who work in the media, those who are citizens of a republic, must ensure that the small minority do nothing to further their aims by preventing people from doing their work.


"Yesterday was a sad day because we've been around the house. I've been there six years. I've never witnessed the behaviour and the thuggery of yesterday. And thankfully, because of the proactivity of members of An Garda Siochana nobody was seriously injured or even killed."

Political violence he said was a growing phenomenon internationally, possibly led post Covid by conspiracy theorists.

"Those of us who are elected to parliament have a mandate that people can reject or accept. That's their prerogative. But what happened yesterday was an attack on the institutions of the state, and it has no place.

"Yesterday was a group of thugs, in my opinion,  a small group who were able to dominate and prevent members of the media from doing their work. Members of the parliamentary staff.


"I mean, I really would like to make the point this morning to people forget about the politicians at one level, look at the members of staff who are people coming in to do the work, having to run the gauntlet of that mob yesterday."

Right to protest

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Liam Herrick said the protests had crossed the line with regard to incitement to violence.

"The right to protest includes the right to offend people, to upset people up to a certain extent.

"But I've been at many protests over the years when the Gardai have removed props or banners where they felt that they were a danger to public order.


"And if we create a situation where people are inciting violence and indeed death threats against named politicians or are making the argument that all politicians across all parties are involved in a conspiracy against the people, that they are evil in some ways, and they merit violence or even death, then I think we have crossed the line in terms of incitement to violence,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

"The groups that were there yesterday have been present in other demonstrations as well. And indeed, unfortunately, some members of the Oireachtas have given succour to them, have shared platforms with them, have shared their messaging.”

Mr Herrick pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights has said that if a protest has violent intentions and results in public disorder, it does not enjoy that legal protection.

"Clearly, there were people who had a violent intention. There was serious violence against Michael Healy Rae and many other people and the people that were involved in leading the protest yesterday.


"The prominent speakers and the ones who are organising it online are the same people that have been organising protests at refugee centres and at libraries over the last year as well.”

There is a right to peaceful protest, he said, "but yesterday was not a peaceful protest, people are entitled to attend Leinster House and it's the right place to have protest. They're entitled to hold up banners, even if the banners are offensive. Absolutely. There's no question about that.

"But if you start threatening and exercising violence, missiles were thrown at Michael Healy-Rae and other people.

"If you protest to the extent that people cannot exercise their rights and members of the Oireachtas to take part in our national parliament, the electorate to be represented, journalists to provide a free press or indeed workers to safely go about their workplace...that's a problem."

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