The right to protest
- Irish laws that protect the right to protest
- When the legal protections do not apply
- Garda powers
- More information
Irish laws that protect the right to protest
People in Ireland have a right to protest peacefully in public places, as long as they do not break the law. A protester can break the law if they commit public order offences, like trespass or threatening and abusive behaviour, or if they are inciting hatred.
The Irish Constitution and other human rights instruments protect your right to:
- Express yourself freely
- Meet freely with other people
- Organise groups with other people
These protections are not absolute and can be limited by law. For example, you have a right to associate (to form groups and to organise) but the Government can pass laws declaring an organisation to be illegal.
Your right to free expression and free speech is restricted by defamation laws, obscenity and censorship laws, and laws against hate speech.
When the legal protections do not apply
Most public protests take place without anyone breaking the law. If a person taking part in a protest breaks the law, by acting in a violent manner for example, it does not mean that the whole protest is unlawful.
The legal protections for the right to protest do not apply if:
- Protesters behave in a threatening manner or use violence
- The protest is inciting hatred towards a group of people because of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation
- The protest is on private land
The Gardaí have certain powers that they might use before or during a protest. Protests can be restricted if there is a breach of the peace, or the protest if causing too much disruption to people or to traffic. The restriction must be necessary and as limited as possible.
Protest near the Oireacthas
Gardaí can restrict protests within half a mile of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament) while the Oireachtas is in session.
Control access to an event – Section 21 order
The Gardaí can place barriers on roads up to one mile (1.6 kilometres) from where an event involving a large number of people is taking place. Section 21 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 allows the Gardai to stop you from crossing the barrier if you do not have a ticket for the event. It is an offence to not comply with a direction given by a Garda at a barrier.
You can be arrested without a warrant for serious offences and other public order offences. Gardaí can also seize alcohol and direct that you leave the area in an orderly manner.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties have a booklet on the right to protest.