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Liam Herrick

23 Aug 2023 / OPINION Print

Opinion: Commissioner should explain ATM move

Last week, Bank of Ireland experienced a technological issue that resulted in customers being able to withdraw more money from their bank accounts than they contained, writes Liam Herrick (executive director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)).

Word quickly spread and, while some people moved to take advantage of the situation, most simply went about their normal lives, which may have included lawfully accessing the money in their bank accounts.


One of the disturbing aspects of the incident was the presence and actions of gardaí at ATMs around the country. A significant and rapid garda response was mounted, which An Garda Síochána has stated was in response to more than 40 calls from people across the country.

Gardaí were deployed in various locations to prevent people withdrawing money from ATMs and to disperse queues of people waiting to use them. On the news and in our social-media feeds, we saw images of gardaí at ATMs and even garda vehicles parked on footpaths to prevent people from accessing the machines.


The wider context to this is a summer of debate about the adequacy of policing in Dublin. Many people in Ireland feel the gardaí’s response to serious crime in Dublin and around the country is often inadequate.

It’s also not the first time that An Garda Síochána has been drawn into civil matters without a clear legal basis.

The images are reminiscent of Garda presence at private evictions in recent years, where they were seen to be assisting and supporting private security and landlords.

In fact, the Garda Commissioner had to initiate two investigations and issue clarification to members of the force about their role in such situations.

The public has long felt that the law is not always applied equally; that some perceived problems receive a disproportionate response, while others seem to be overlooked.

All of which is to say that we should not be surprised that a significant and rapid response from the gardaí to a glitch in a banking system leads the public to question what the gardaí are doing, and why.

Legal basis

The simple fact of the matter is that gardaí must have a clear legal basis for their actions when their activities restrict people’s rights and movements (which includes people’s ability to access finance), and they must be clear and transparent in disclosing this legal basis for action.

In its statements about operations relating to the Bank of Ireland ATMs, an Garda Síochána has categorised its response as a public-order issue.

This explanation raises a number of questions. If the basis was public order, then what assessment of risk was carried out that led to the response?

Why were gardaí immediately deployed to the streets when public-order operations generally have a reserve number of officers who are then deployed if a problem arises? And how does public order explain gardaí preventing people from accessing ATMs and banking services? The explanation simply doesn’t hold up.

The statement also says that gardaí attended ATMs and advised people of their personal finance responsibilities. This goes far beyond the remit of An Garda Síochána and raises questions regarding how gardaí knew whether people had a legal basis for accessing money.

Disproportionate response?

The information provided so far suggests the response was disproportionate. An Garda Síochána has said that they were responding to more than 40 calls from across the country, but, for the most part, we don’t know the nature of these calls.

Within the reported 40 calls, the gardaí have said that only a small number related to serious public-order concerns. There has also been no information from An Garda Síochána about contact with Bank of Ireland; whereas Bank of Ireland did say they were in touch with gardaí, but did not request assistance.

Ultimately, the response may be judged to be proportionate, but the scale and speed of it, along with the lack of transparency about intelligence and risk assessment in the lead-up, does give rise to concerns that should be addressed further.

Lawful right

People who had a lawful right to use an ATM and access their money were prevented from doing so last week by gardaí.

The explanation that has been furnished does not provide adequate information regarding the decision-making process, including risk assessment, to deploy a significant number of gardaí to the streets. It doesn’t line up with what we all witnessed, and leaves members of the public questioning the gardaí’s intentions.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris should address these concerns openly, and clarify the decision-making behind the deployment and actions of gardaí last Tuesday evening. If not, the Policing Authority may ask questions of him and the force directly, at its next meeting.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland