New legislation is being put forward to give police in the 26 Counties the power to search through private phones and other electronic devices, even as it emerged the Gardaí been ignoring more than a thousand emergency phone calls for help every month.
A new policing powers bill could see someone jailed for five years for refusing to give police their passwords for phones or computers. It has been described by legal and privacy experts as “very concerning”.
The new bill seeks to expand the powers Gardaí have to access private communications in ways that had previously only been available under certain pieces of legislation.
Recent years have seen numerous instances of Gardaí misusing and abusing their powers and proving that they cannot be trusted with sensitive information.
In 2017 Gardaí filmed intimate footage of Dublin woman Dara Quigley having a psychotic episode and shared it to an internet group with other gardaí. The footage ultimately spread and was viewed over 120,000 times, causing the woman to take her own life a few days later.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it is concerned about a number of facets of the prospective law. A spokesperson said the ICCL took issue with the fact that search warrants could be issued by Garda superintendents, as opposed to judges.
“Does anybody really trust the Gardaí to be respectful and use these powers appropriately?” asked Saoradh.
“This legislation must be opposed by all Republicans, as these authoritarian powers will most certainly be used disproportionately to target and harass Republicans just as they are within the Occupied Six Counties by British Crown Forces.”
Dr Vicky Conway, associate professor of law at Dublin City University. described it as “a land grab by the Department of Justice.”
“The general power of arrest without charge is being expanded massively, there is a power of detention for stop and search, and a very broad power of seizure of items upon arrest,” she sai0d.
Aontú Leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said “serious questions” needed to be asked of proposed new Garda powers.
He said Covid-19, which brought heavy-handed police tactics and a web of checkpoints deployed to control the movements of the general Irish public, had ushered in a new period of extreme emergency powers.
“These powers would me unimaginable just two years ago. In this climate it’s hard to see how the government feels it is justifiable to afford further, sweeping powers to Gardaí when emergency powers granted during Covid-19 are meant to end?
“Policing in a liberal democracy is supposed to be based on the foundation of consent. The Gardaí themselves have stated that their relationships with many in Irish society has been damaged in the last 14 months. No one wants to see a situation where Gardaí cant do their job but their powers must be balanced with citizens’ rights”.
Meanwhile, Gardaí have admitted ignoring tens of thousands of 999 emergency calls for help since start of 2019 and October 2020. More than 22,000 ‘priority one’ emergency calls for help in connection to assaults, sex crimes, domestic abuse and others had their calls cancelled in the period, according to an audit.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (pictured) apologised to domestic violence victims who suffered abuse when their calls were ignored.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice Martin Kenny TD called on Harris to appear before the parliamentary Justice Committee to explain the situation.
“It is a frightening scenario when people cannot rely on the police service to respond in an emergency, not to mention the skewing of crime statistics that would result in the cancellation of genuine calls for help,” he said.