Thursday, 16 November 1978
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. Browne: asked the Minister for Defence the circumstances whereby a detachment of troops was brought into Waterford on 25 August last, on the occasion of a workers' demonstration; and the instructions, if any, which were given to the Army on that occasion.
Mr. Molloy: In response to a request from the Garda Síochána an Army recovery vehicle, with the necessary military personnel, was made available on 25 August 1978, with instructions to tow away vehicles if requested to do so by the Garda in Waterford.
Dr. Browne: Does the Minister agree that it was an undesirable development that the Army should be brought in in this way when workers protest by way of public march? Does he agree that it is establishing a precedent, that it looks as if this sort of thing will be carried out inevitably whenever a march takes place in the future? There will always be marches in our streets. Is the Minister directly or indirectly establishing a precedent which will be observed in future in respect of protest marches—that the Army will be there in support of the Garda?
Mr. Molloy: The circumstances of this case have been explained by the Garda in a press release and by the Minister for Justice in a letter to the secretary of the union involved. The question of the Army coming to the aid of the civil power has been established in legislation. In the case the Deputy has raised, the Army responded to the call as this Government and the previous Government expected they would—legislation was provided to ensure that they would.
Dr. Browne: I accept the general principle of the Army supporting the Garda, but will the Minister not agree that the form of the request made by the Garda that they needed vehicles to be towed away is inseparable from the position in respect of future marches of this kind? May we take it that the Army will be brought out inevitably when any future marches of this kind take place?
Mr. Molloy: It would be wrong for Deputy Browne to seek to convey abroad the impression that whenever a peaceful protest march will be planned the Army will be brought on the streets. That seems to be the implication of the Deputy's question. The situation in each case is considered independently by the Garda authorities who are in charge of internal security of that nature. In this particular case they sought the aid of the Army for a particular reason. The Deputy knows the circumstances surrounding this case. If you like it may have been very exceptional because of the topographical features, the location of a vital bridge across the Suir river and the belief validly held by the Garda authorities that an attempt was to be made to block the bridge and they sought military aid in the event of that happening. The Army personnel who attended in response to the call stayed well away from the route of the march—in fact on the north side of the river. The parade itself was taking place on the south side of the river. The only reason they were called, and the only situation in which they would have acted was in the event of a main thoroughfare having been blocked by some groups, not necessarily those participating in the parade, which went off very peacefully and in a very orderly manner with the help of the Garda.
Dr. FitzGerald: Would the Minister not agree that without prejudice to the principle of the availability of the Army to aid the civil power—which we all support—it would be more appropriate if the Garda had the necessary equipment to do this kind of work themselves and would he consult with his colleague, the Minister for Justice, with a view to seeking that way out of the problem?
Mr. Molloy: The Deputy raises a valid point. The non-availability of this type of equipment has, I think, since been dealt with and the Garda are now well equipped to deal with such a situation themselves.
Mr. M. O'Leary: Would the Minister ensure that the unhappy precedent set by the involvement of the Army on this occasion will not be repeated in the future and where peaceful demonstrations about economic issues—such as unemployment in this case—are concerned perhaps the Minister would consider whether he should lay down broad guidelines to ensure that the Army will not be involved except for the most serious reasons? Is the Minister satisfied that such a serious reason existed in this case? Police can make mistakes in dealing with a situation of this kind and a precedent was set on this occasion that it would be dangerous to repeat.
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