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Two Extinction Rebellion protesters who locked themselves to Dáil gates in 2019 spared jail

TWO EXTINCTION REBELLION activists, who believed the climate crisis “justified” locking themselves to the gates of Leinster House preventing politicians from driving out, have been spared jail.

Dublin District Court heard Rónán Ó Dálaigh and Art Ó Laoghaire’s “lock on, lock off” action saw them attached to the Dáil gates with bicycle locks around their necks on the night of 10 October, 2019.

They argued that they used “non-violent direct action” because of Government inaction.

Asked if they were prepared to apologise to people inconvenienced by them, Ó Dálaigh told the court he was sorry to them “and those affected by the climate catastrophe”. 

Ó Laoghaire said he was apologetic to anyone discommoded that night.

Both were fined €500 today after Judge John Hughes convicted them of public order offences for blocking the passage of vehicles and failing to leave the vicinity after being cautioned by gardaí at Merrion Street Upper.

Their “direct action” at Leinster House was an off-shoot of a wider week-long, but officially sanctioned, climate crisis event which allowed Merrion Square to be sectioned off for protests that attracted massive crowds.

The two men pleaded not guilty and faced a non-jury hearing today.

One of the charges carried a possible six-month sentence, nevertheless, they told the court they believed their act was justified.

Ó Dálaigh, 32, is the CEO and founder of Thriftify, a social enterprise which helps charity shops sell online.

He said he works with people in the global south directly impacted by climate change. 

Ó Laoghaire, 72, is a retired teacher of English as a foreign language.

He said he had been planning to retire to the Mediterranean until he attended an Extinction Rebellion event and got involved with the group’s campaigns.

The pair admitted in court that they broke the law, but were convinced it was necessary because of the crisis, and claimed government inaction made the problem worse.

Video evidence showed them and other protesters locked to the gate for hours before gardaí cut them free and removed them around midnight.

No damage was caused to the gates.

The court heard politicians and Leinster House staff were blocked from driving out but were not prevented from leaving on foot.

They did not challenge the testimony of Detective Sergeant Ronan Waldron or the CCTV footage which showed them locked to the gate.

Detective Sergeant Waldron described the defendants as “committed to the cause”.

Ó Dálaigh, of Westbourne Grove, Clondalkin, Dublin, told Judge Hughes that Extinction Rebellion believed social change could be brought about by a combination of activities and one was “non-violent direct action” as used by the Suffragettes.

He accused the Government of blocking laws aimed at tackling the climate emergency which has left him afraid that it would worsen global warming, rising sea levels, reduced bio-diversity, crop failures, and the risk of a refugee crisis.

They decided to block the Dáil gates but people could leave through the pedestrian gates.

He said the protesters tried to engage with politicians there, but they were ignored despite evidence that millions of lives will be lost unless radical action was taken.

Cross-examined by the prosecution he accepted that gardaí had facilitated them with an area at Merrion Square which was closed off to traffic for climate protests all that week.

He also agreed that they were engaging in civil disobedience but said it was not violent.

The former Reserve Defence forces member told Judge Hughes that the crisis had given him sleepless nights.

He said had considered what he would say to his children or grandchildren when they asked “What did you do?”.

Father of two, Art Ó Laoghaire, from Kilbride Grove, Bray, Co. Wicklow, also accused the Government of ignoring the problem and said Extinction Rebellion had to be a “thorn in their side”.

However, he did not believe the people in Government buildings had been seriously discommoded and any disruption to their lives was “trivial”.

The court heard he has retired but continues voluntary work teaching English to Ukrainian refugees and working for charity.

The judge asked his thoughts on the possible but unknown disruption caused to the personal lives of people working at Leinster House and delayed leaving.

He said they could “get a taxi” and “it is not as if they are impoverished people”, and described any disruption to them as “trivial”.

The pair had no prior criminal convictions and have not come to further Garda attention.

Judge Hughes said there were competing rights to protest and public order and safety.

In pleas for leniency, the defence asked the judge to note they were passionate about climate change campaigning and had honestly held convictions.

The judge also noted they were not violent and gave them six months to pay the fines.

Three other protesters who locked themselves to the gates were spared court and convictions after accepting Garda adult cautions instead.