The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Ireland is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Ireland is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Ireland is a state party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 40(6) of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland (as amended) stipulates that:
the state guarantees liberty for the exercise of the right, subject to public order and morality, to assemble peaceably and without arms.
Provision may be made by law to prevent or control meetings which are determined in accordance with law to be calculated to cause a breach of the peace or to be a danger or nuisance to the general public and to prevent or control meetings in the vicinity of (Parliament).
The 2003 European Convention on Human Rights Act implements the Conventional at domestic law, including the right of peaceful assembly.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Guidelines on police use of force in Ireland have not generally been made public. The exception is with respect to the use of incapacitant sprays by the Gardai. Concerning use during assemblies or in crowded areas, the policy states as follows:
Use of an Incapacitant Spray at a public order event may have a profound impact on crowd dynamics with obvious implications for public safety and public order. The spraying of incapacitants in these circumstances may lead to cross contamination causing panic. Similarly, the use of Incapacitant Spray in crowded public areas may cause significant cross contamination and another use of force option may be more appropriate. The decision to use Incapacitant Spray against a person in these circumstances must be capable of subsequent justification.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
The Irish Police do not routinely carry firearms. To be lawful, however, when using a firearm the Garda officer must honestly believe there was an immediate and real risk to life and that the use of lethal force was justified in the circumstances.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Ireland, the Human Rights Committee did not adress the right of peaceful assembly. The issue was also not addressed in Ireland's 2016 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council.
The European Court of Human Rights has not found a violation of the right of peaceful assembly by Ireland.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Ireland: "The right to assemble freely is respected, and peaceful demonstrations are held each year."