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What are the Garda doing at evictions?

The presence of gardaí at evictions may lead tenants to believe that they have no choice but to vacate their home.

By Conor Doyle.

Video footage emerged last Thursday of the latest iteration of what’s become a familiar scene. Men, dressed head to toe in black, with dark glasses and face coverings (although on this occasion not balaclavas, because perhaps conveniently Covid-19 masks are now mandatory) pouring into a private residence to carry out an eviction, with gardaí present. In the video, three gardaí can be seen informing the tenants, the majority of which are foreign nationals, that they have no right to be on the property. But Garda have no function at a private eviction, except in cases where there’s a criminal act – or a credible threat of a criminal act – taking place. And furthermore reports are claiming that the eviction was illegal suggesting their primary role should have been to defend those who were victims of a serious illegality, the tenants. So why were they in fact here?

The exact reason why the gardaí first arrived is unclear. Some reports, including in The Journal, claim it was the tenants that called them for assistance. A legal representative for An Garda Síochána (AGS) told The Journal on Thursday that gardaí were dispatched to the scene to “prevent breaches of the peace and ensure the safety of all persons involved” and that “no injuries occurred and no damage was caused”. When the storm of marauding and intimidating black-clad men had blown through, the tenants, eight of whom were foreign nationals, were left out on the road with their belongings. Many of the tenants had been living in the property for years. One tenant, Theresa Chimamkpam told The Irish Times that she’d lived there since 2011. She said she was “terrified” and that her home was boarded up, rendering her homeless.

With the help of housing activists and solicitor Gary Daly, who’s representing the tenants, they were able to regain access to the property. Daly said there is no legal document which would form the basis for a lawfully authorised eviction. The video footage shows a man arguing with tenants, claiming that he gave notice on Facebook seven days beforehand. However of course, a message on Facebook is not a valid form of notice. And 7 days is not the appropriate notice period. Daly also said that to the best of his knowledge, the Garda were not in possession of a court order or an order from the Residential Tenancies Board to authorise the eviction. Housing activists Dublin City Housing Action told The Journalthat tenants’ belongings, including laptops, were damaged as they were being removed. Photos of further damage have since surfaced on Twitter, from Irish Times Journalist Jack Power and others. The photos show smashed toilets and walls partially torn down.

If it is the case that the Garda were called to the scene by the tenants, the pertinent question is why they can be heard telling the tenants “you have no right to be here” and “as far as we’re concerned you’ve been given notice”. Especially if it’s true that they had not seen any documentation that would authorise the eviction. Last Thursday, the ICCL wrote a letter to the Garda Commissioner, asking these questions. Sinéad Nolan from the ICCL told me:

“Garda shouldn’t be present unless there is a crime taking place or the very real threat of a crime. A culture has grown up in Ireland where Garda sometimes arrive at evictions to uphold public order, however this isn’t really a good legal reason to be there”.

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey had called for an urgent review of the events at Thursday’s eviction. Deputy Twomey also said there’s a criminal investigation being carried out into the damage caused. The call for review seemed to come off the back of the Garda becoming “very aware of the current public discourse around an incident on Berkeley Road”. It seems their position has changed from we came to keep the peace and no damage was caused. One would wonder whether it was the “current public discourse” that caused the sudden change of stance and thus introspection from the Gardaí.

We think last week’s protest got so much attention because those tenants were well connected in activists groups and were able to access their support networks on social media etc”, Sinéad Nolan continued. “We worry there are other evictions being carried out under the radar”.

This Garda introspection will come in the form of a ‘lessons learned report’ according to Deputy Twomey who unconvincingly said that the Garda is a “learning organisation”. However, this isn’t the first time the Garda have had to learn from such an incident. In 2018, the ICCL wrote a similar letter in relation to an eviction on North Frederick Street. On that occasion Gardaí could be seen wearing face coverings resembling balaclavas and protestors were evicted, with several arrested and injuries sustained. In the aftermath, Garda commissioner Drew Harris claimed that Garda had learned lessons and that balaclavas were not the correct form of dress. But modern history shows that lessons don’t really seem to be a ‘thing’ for the Garda.

What happened last week would seem to suggest that the lessons that needed to be learned, weren’t”, Sinead Nolan continued. “I mean, it’s a low bar to set but obviously it’s good that they weren’t wearing face coverings”.

. Also perhaps ironically, on this occasion they should have all been wearing face coverings in the form of Covid-19 face masks, whereas only two out of the three were.

The Garda claim that their attendance at these evictions is to ‘keep the peace’. However, with the damage caused last week and the injuries sustained in 2018 while gardaí were present, questions arise as to exactly what their motivation for attending these evictions is. Or perhaps more specifically, what or who they are there to protect. If information from solicitor Gary Daly is correct, it would appear that some of the Garda turned up to a private eviction and, having received no documentation, proceeded to tell the tenants they had “no right to be here”. On the face of it, this appears to be a facilitation of the eviction. Both the ICCL and housing charity Threshold have noted the chilling effect the perception that Garda will take an active role in enforcing evictions can have on protestors and tenants.

The presence of Gardaí may lead a tenant to believe that they have no choice but to vacate their home`’.

If this is the potential effect of gardaí turning up to evictions, the onus on them to be thorough in checking the legitimacy of the eviction is heightened. At Berkeley Road, it appears to have been less than thorough. If it transpires, as is being reported, that the eviction was illegal it becomes all the more troubling.

“We can’t comment on whether the eviction was legal or not; we don’t have all that information”, Sinead Nolan continued. “But given that the ban on evictions was only lifted on August 2 and there is a 28-day notice period, it seems unlikely”.

Covid-19 and treatment of tenants

For many it has seemed that in the handling of the Covid-19 crisis it’s been a case of one rule for the rich and one for the poor. While TDs attend capacious dinners and  and American tourists flooded unchecked into our hospitality industry, those who’ve given up their job for the Covid effort have their PUP payment threatened when they consider a holiday themselves. While regular people are told to vigilantly regulate their social distancing, meat factories and Direct Provision centres go unregulated. The treatment of tenants might be another instance of this. Evictions starting again may only exacerbate the divide between certain groups in terms of the effect of the virus. Of course these aren’t new, we’ve seen several incidences of gardaí at evictions, shoulder to shoulder with black-clad security teams. However, Covid had brought a welcome break. As mentioned, the ban on evictions was only lifted on 2 August. Lifting the ban at this current time is peculiar though, given the effect it’s had.

“The evictions ban was the most successful anti-homelessness measure is recent Irish history”.

“The ban on evictions ‘turned off the tap’ of people entering homelessness.” Threshold told Village. “The evictions ban was the most successful anti-homelessness measure is recent Irish history”.

Back in May, Threshold published figures showing a drop in homelessness. At the end of March homelessness had reduced by 400 compared with the same time in 2019. Given this, at a minimum one would think that a restriction on no fault evictions should be extended as long as this pandemic rolls on. Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke this week of the need to work together, to stop Covid-19 spreading to the most vulnerable people. The fact is that it already has, and it continues to affect vulnerable people the worst. Threshold went on:

“Many tenants who lost their income during the public health emergency were unable to pay their rent and accrued debt. No measures have been put in place to materially assist with that debt”.

“Many tenants who lost their income during the public health emergency were unable to pay their rent and accrued debt. No measures have been put in place to materially assist with that debt”.

There is no help for renters accruing debt, while for example, there’s a mortgage break for landlords. At a time when scattered messages are coming from the government, with rules that appear to apply to some and not others, this would appear to be another knock. Another instance of unfair treatment of certain classes of people. 

 Sinéad Nolan says that moments like this don’t help public confidence in our police force.

“Another allegation that crops up at the moment is whether different communities are treated differently by the Gardaí. It’s important they have buy-in and trust from all parts of the community and these kind of incidents don’t help with that”.

It’s not difficult to see why the Government or the Garda don’t have buy in or trust from certain sections of the population currently, given the current treatment of tenants in the middle of a pandemic.


In the aftermath of the 2018 North Frederick Street eviction, the ICCL called for human-rights-based policing. Sinead noted that a guide for reform was published by the Commission on the Reform of Policing in 2018, and that it has been adopted legally.

“We definitely support this, but it’s a long process and it takes a long time to implement. We’re still watching and applauding when good work is done”.

The policing authority have expressed concern at the events of last week, but also noted the difficulty of the job. It was said that Garda have to make ‘on the spot’ decisions sometimes with incomplete knowledge of the facts. It is of course the case that on the spot decisions need to be made with incomplete facts, so Threshold thinks, why not make it easier for them?

“There is a need for urgent clarity – for tenants, landlords and the rank and file gardaí as to their role at such events”.

Clear instructions as to their role would certainly clarify the muddied ‘on the spot decisions’. One area where clarity is paramount is the need to confirm the eviction is legal.  

Clear instructions as to their role would certainly clarify the muddied ‘on the spot decisions’. One area where clarity is paramount is the need to confirm the eviction is legal.  In their letter to the Commissioner, the ICCL asked whether steps were taken to confirm this eviction was lawful. 

“At the very least gardaí attending an eviction should look for documentation, such as a court order to validate the legitimacy of it”.

A check for documentation for sure, and certainly before proceeding to tell tenants what they have a right to do or in this case, not to do. Whether or not it was an honest oversight by the individual gardaí at the scene, the Garda as an organisation are not exonerated for the lack of transparency and proper protocol around attendance at evictions. The optics of this really jars in the middle of a pandemic, too. Seeing our police force tell a group of tenants “it’s not our responsibility that you’re homeless” while a private security team secures the property for a landlord, does not suggest “we’re in this together”.