Wednesday 20 February 2019

Gardaí act as protesters raise threat to ministers' families

  

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Arthur Carron
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Arthur Carron
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Gardaí are to review the security arrangements in place for ministers as a result of the ongoing threat of protests at their homes.

The arrival of demonstrators at the door of Health Minister Simon Harris has been described as "a new low in Irish politics".

Please sign in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Sign In

But it's not the first time and, based on the analysis being espoused on social media over the past day, it won't be the last.

It comes just weeks after another alert about female ministers being targeted led to gardaí patrolling the homes of other ministers. Officers are now being forced to assess the risk to each minister.

Of course, there was a time in the not-so-distant past that we took it for granted that every minister would have Garda protection. The "luxury" was scrapped in 2011 in order to save around €4m.

Those who targeted Mr Harris and his family on Sunday would like everybody to believe he lives in a Wicklow mansion, oblivious to the housing crisis.

But, in reality, Ireland has some of the most accessible politicians in Europe, perhaps the world.

Most TDs hold constituency clinics where you can walk in off the street. If you want a word with a minister, they are not very hard to find.

Some of the online commentary in the wake of Sunday's protest noted how Mr Harris lived in a modest two-storey home in a Greystones housing estate. It's no secret the Taoiseach's 'Ivory Tower' is an apartment he bought with a 100pc mortgage.

Those behind the protest remained defiant online yesterday, claiming they staged a "peaceful, dignified demonstration". They insist the minister was never "trapped" because they were merely standing on a public footpath.

Yet, put yourself in Caoimhe Harris's shoes. On a Sunday afternoon, you're planning an afternoon trip with your three-week-old baby to her grandparents when more than a dozen people turn up outside. They are blaming your husband for all the country's ills.

One group is calling itself the 'Fingal Battalion' after a group of 1916 volunteers famed for guerrilla warfare. Their partners are a 'Flying Column'. Would you bring the baby outside the house?

Simon Harris's wife is not a politician or somebody who takes part in public debate. In fact, she's a nurse.

Who knows, maybe if she wasn't on maternity leave, Caoimhe might well have been at the legitimate rally in Dublin city centre on Saturday.

So what did the protesters hope to achieve? If they genuinely wanted the minister to resign or the Government to initiate policy changes, then their actions were a monumental failure.

Politicians of all colours have united to condemn the picket, even the country's most famous water protester Paul Murphy.

Yesterday, the organisers said they "won't be backing down" and want TDs, sheriffs and judges to be targeted next, which is an appalling vista.

The level of debate these protesters are engaged in is summed up by the comment from one Facebook supporter: "I was contemplating running for elections but have decided against doing so because I do not want to become another one of these parasite scumbags only there for a pay check [sic] and live off the people of Ireland."

Without a hint of irony, some of those at Mr Harris's door even managed to unfurl a poster declaring: "This is our mandate."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section