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A bus on fire during the riots. Sam Boal/
dublin riots

'We loaded onto a bus in Naas and headed to Dublin': Gardaí reflect on lessons from the riots

Gardaí at the GRA conference say they are still without the gear they need.

GARDAÍ AT THE GRA conference have passed a motion demanding that all members are supplied with hard helmets and proper protective gear, saying that officers faced “assaults, abuse, being spat at and having implements thrown at them” during the Dublin riots last November.

Garda John Joe O’Connell, from the Kildare division of the Garda Representative Association, said that he was at home watching TV with his wife on the night of 23 November when he got messages from colleagues in Dublin who were struggling to police protests that became violent, and decided to go and help them. 

“About 16 or 18 of us loaded into a Garda van in Naas and made our way in, there was no thought of what are my entitlements or what’s my shift, we were going to help our colleagues, end of story,” he said.

O’Connell explained that while some more senior gardaí had hard helmets that they were issued with over ten years ago, more junior members didn’t have any protective headwear, and went into the riots wearing soft caps. 

“You wouldn’t walk into a building site without a hard hat, and yet our members faced assaults without one,” he said. 

He described how his group navigated their way through “abandoned buses and vehicles” that were along the quays, before making their way to O’Connell bridge to assist their colleagues. 

“It was quite amazing standing on a bridge beside a burned out double decker bus and a burned out patrol car. To see those things and know that you are there, exposed without the proper equipment, and proper training,” he added. 

Karl Howard, a garda from the DMR South Central division, spoke about how one member attached to the division lost his toe in the riots, as a heavy object landed on his foot, and his protective boots failed due to a defect.

Howard said the garda is now back at work and “coming to terms with his injury”. 

WhatsApp Image 2024-04-23 at 12.10.43 Gardaí Karl Howard and John Joe O'Connell.

He said there were significant communication issues on the night of the riots as well, including that public order members on the front line wearing protective headgear couldn’t hear tactical commands coming in via their radios. 

Howard said there has been talk of moulding an earpiece into helmets, but there has been no progress in securing them. 

O’Connell described the actions of the 20 to 30 Store Street and Mountjoy area gardaí who responded to the chaos as heroic. 

The riots broke out in the city centre after the attack of children and a creche worker on Parnell Square.

“They were the frontline, and after that there were 20 gardaí from Naas, gardaí from Sligo, we came from all over the country to assist. 

“But this is really basic stuff. Give us the proper equipment and training and we will go out and keep the people safe in this country, that’s what we want to do,” he added. 

The gardaí said that while they have received the stronger pepper spray that was promised after the riots by the Garda Commissioner, the delivery of other equipment has stalled, and the smaller shields that were to be introduced are not yet in wide use. 

Early today the outgoing president of the GRA Brendan O’Connor said that if An Garda Síochána was a private organisation, it would be “under investigation” for sending gardaí out into a riot without the proper protective equipment. 

The GRA conference is underway in Westport where motions are being passed on issues such as pay, pensions and use of force that will then shape GRA policy going forward. 

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is not attending the conference this year because the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was not invited, following a GRA vote of no confidence in him.

GRA members from many divisions have expressed the minister’s decision as disappointing, with GRA leadership saying she has missed an opportunity to hear from gardaí, and engage with them.

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