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Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority,
it is time to reform.
- Mark Twain



Civil Liberties for Some


Mags Glennon


Davy Carlin's article "An Outrageous Attack On Civil Liberties" makes a number of considered and legitimate points on the motivations for, and application of, the Public Order Act 1994 as it relates to protests in the 26 counties.

However his analysis leaves something to be desired. The POA has long been used against political and community activists whose activities or ideas are troublesome to the state. To claim that this has only happened post-September the 11th is to re-write history. Yes - there have been more arrests of 'left wing' protesters since then. However to focus entirely on people connected to the so-called far-left and SWP connected groups is to mislead readers who may not be aware of the full background. These groups may be being targeted now, but others have been in the past and the truth is that the SWP and others on the 'far left' showed zero interest in these cases.

Going back to the mid 1990s the anti-drugs movement in Dublin was subjected to harassment by dozens of activists being arrested and/or spuriously charged under the POA (and other more serious acts). Recently 11 anti-racist activists were in court under POA charges also. That the Guards should lie and produce totally untrue evidence, or that judges should collude with them in convicting people in this basis, may be a legitimate basis for appealing to liberals and the media. It is a bit odd that 'revolutionaries' should expect anything different, but then again maybe not.

Evidence of the impact of laws such as the POA and the Industrial Relations Act was seen during the Aldi Strike in Dublin in 2000. During the pickets of the low wage Aldi store - which had sacked some workers for joining a union - members of a left wing group (in this case the Socialist Party) engaged in a slanging match with independent activists who had called the shop manager and security staff 'scabs', which is exactly what they were. We were told that we could not call them this. Apparently someone somewhere has decided this historical and accurate description is no longer allowed. The concern of trade union officials and some activists (but not the strikers) was for totally obedience to all anti-trade union laws. In truth they would rather lose the strike than break any, even the most unjust, law.

There is a strong need for a serious study of the implications of these laws for political organising in Ireland, outside of just individual cases. Davy's article goes some way towards this, but I caution against the focus on just certain cases. After all the POA has also been widely used against right-wing activists, particularly Youth Defence. Though I'd be the last person to run around defending their civil liberties the principle remains the same.



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