The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said guidelines for protesting safely during lockdown restrictions are urgently needed, following violence at a protest in Dublin last weekend.
In a letter to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, the group said such guidelines would protect both the public and an Garda Síochána.
It added that, while the right to protest did not include the right to violence, peaceful protesters who attended events which became violent still had a right to protest – so long as they themselves remained peaceful.
“This is a conundrum for both gardaí and the public, and it is made even more so by the absence of guidelines for protesters,” the ICCL said.
The council also said that safe protest should be considered a legitimate excuse to leave home during the current and all future lockdowns.
The group’s head of legal and policy Doireann Ansbro said guidelines could advise on the size of protests, social distancing and face coverings.
“This would protect people who wish to protest peacefully and safely, and it may also protect gardaí from those who intend to do neither,” she said.
The ICCL said the majority of people had accepted that restrictions were necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19, but there was a minority who did not agree.
“They have a right to express their views within the law but currently the law appears to ban all protests,” the ICCL said, adding that other countries had shown that protests could still be facilitated with appropriate safeguards.