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Garda Commissioner concerned about rise in right-wing extremism in Ireland

Harris said there needs to be a consistent approach by gardaí in dealing with hate crime.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
Image: PA

GARDA COMMISSIONER DREW Harris has said he is concerned about the increase in right-wing extremism in Ireland.

Drew Harris told a meeting of the Policing Authority that Ireland is not immune to the rise of far-right extremism spreading across Europe.

On the issue of hate crime legislation and online abuse, Harris welcomed the fact there is now a clear-cut definition of hate crime.

“I am concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe,” he said.

Last month, the government launched a public consultation process ahead of an expected strengthening of hate speech laws and the introduction of a specific new offence of ‘hate crime’.

Harris said there needs to be a consistent approach by gardaí in dealing with hate crime and they are seeking to develop an online platform so people can report it.

“We need to standardise our approach to hate crime across the organisation and develop an online reporting platform to deal with it,” he said.

He said minority communities are most affected by it and the motivation for it is one of discrimination and prejudice.

The meeting also heard that 3,000 gardaí nationwide are unable to drive a patrol car using blue lights and sirens to emergencies.

Many garda divisions across the country have an insufficient number of members who are authorised and trained to drive at high speed in emergency situations.

Gardaí trained to the higher standard are allowed to use flashing lights, sirens and drive at higher speeds when responding to serious crime incidents.

Assistant Garda Commissioner David Sheahan told the meeting that 342 gardaí need to be trained urgently to the basic level of competency while a further 481 gardai need level two competency based driver training.

Gardaí who complete a one-day competency based driver (CBD) level 1 assessment are authorised to drive patrol cars but they have to sign a document promising not to exceed the speed limit or to turn on the siren and lights.

Gardaí with CBD2 training completed are allowed to pursue vehicles at high speeds and use sirens and lights.

Sheahan said An Garda Siochana can currently train 400 gardaí to drive a patrol car and they hope to train 1,500 next year.

Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily said the lack of formal training to teach gardaí to drive a patrol car posed “an organisational risk” and the lack of qualified patrol car drivers is increasing response times to incidents.

This was Feehily’s last public meeting as chairwoman as she has decided not to seek reappointment when her term ends next month.

Harris said the garda overtime bill will be €2 million more than expected – going up from €10 million to €12.5 million. 

He said they are looking at ways of cutting the overtime bill and how they allocated garda resources.

“We have a provision that we supply assistance to the court service – that is subject to a working group. We also want to look at court attendance and see if we can regulate that instead of having members attend regular summary court hearings,” he said.

The meeting heard there has been an increase in sexual offences recorded and that there is no clear-cut explanation for the increase.

Harris said it could be down to a combination of more people having confidence in coming forward to report such crimes and an increase in sexual offences generally.

“There was significant under-reporting in sexual offences up until recently so we welcome more reporting of sexual offences. The advantages of the new Garda operational model is that there will be a detective inspector in protective service units to deal with domestic violence and sexual assaults and who have training and expertise in this area,” said the Garda Commissioner. 

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