A CHIEF Superintendent has told the High Court that locations where water meters were being installed were not public areas for the purpose of the Public Order Act, leaving gardai with a difficulty when it came to protests.
Chief Super Fergus Healy was giving evidence yesterday in a hearing concerning three men alleged to have breached a High Court order not to go within 20 metres of contractors installing metres. The attachment and committal (of fine or imprisonment) motion against a fourth man was struck out.
On November 5, the High Court granted an order to a water meter installation contractor, establishing the 20-metre exclusion zone around locations where its workers were installing meters in Dublin City.
GMC Sierra Ltd secured the orders after its lawyers told the High Court that its workers had been harassed and threatened while installing meters in the Dublin 5 and Dublin 13 areas.
Lawyers for GMC Sierra last week moved contempt of court proceedings against four protesters on grounds that they allegedly breached the '20-metre order' in Dublin 7 and Dublin 13. Jim O'Callaghan SC, for GMC Sierra, read into the record portions of an affidavit by an operations manager for GMC Sierra. It stated that following November 5, a worker was allegedly struck by a van, a known protester 'kneed a worker in the face' and protesters breached the 20-metre zone. It was not alleged that any of the three men, allegedly in breach of the order, engaged in this violence.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan gave the four respondents the opportunity to submit replying affidavits of their version of events and adjourned GMC Sierra's attachment and committal motion until yesterday.
Patrick McGrath SC, for the protesters, yesterday asked for an adjournment on the basis that his clients had not been able to secure legal aid.
The judge said he would consider an adjournment if the four protesters gave an undertaking to comply with the 20-metre part of the order. Mr McGrath consulted his clients and then told the court that the undertakings were not forthcoming.
The judge said he would hear from a representative of the Garda Commissioner before directing how gardai could enforce the November 5 order.
Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy said that the force was dependent on the court order.
"The work station area is not a public area for the purposes of the Public Order Act, so it's only outside the barriers that the Act applies," explained the officer. "So, you can see the difficulty. It's a 'Catch 22' situation we find ourselves in."
Mr Justice Gilligan will give his decision tomorrow.