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Leinster House (file photo) Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
Leitrim

'Vigilantes' patrolling rural areas against asylum seekers seeking ID details, committee told

Patrick Costello pointed to alleged checkpoints in Leitrim and vigilante style protests in a number of other counties.

RURAL AREAS HAVE seen “vigilante patrols” mobilise in their communities against the arrival of asylum seekers, a Dáil committee discussing the policing of the Dublin riots and the far-right heard today.

Green Party TD Patrick Costello questioned Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the “policing response” to a range of incidents, including reports of checkpoints being set up by vigilante style groups in Leitrim, along with similar actions by groups in Donegal, Clare and Westmeath.

It’s alleged that locals had responded to a false rumour of a bus due to arrive into the village with asylum seekers who would be housed in emergency accommodation, with Costello telling Harris that “cars were being stopped” and people were “interrogated” for ID.

Costello added that there was a “distinct pattern of increasingly violent, threatening protests” and social media posts, but that “nothing appears to be done” to combat them by gardaí.

In response to the questioning, Harris has said that it is “not possible” for Gardaí to monitor all of the social media networks that far-right actors communicate through.

The senior garda said that “50 individuals” have been identified and reported to the DPP over the past year, with some before the courts or soon to go before the courts.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee was meeting to discuss the response to last week’s Dublin riots, amid a litany of criticism for Harris and the Justice Minister, after violence took over the streets of the capital.

While adamant that he would not resign, Harris outlined at the meeting that public order gardaí will be equipped with tasers in the future in order to enhance their ability to quell unrest.

Costello and Donegal TD Thomas Pringle pointed to how increasingly similar groups have begun to be patrol rural areas, with the latter telling Harris that the “far-right has been organising for too long” along with “orchestrating violence”.

Costello, the Dublin TD, said he found it frustrating that Harris had contended far-right gatherings have been spontaneous to date.

He added that the people involved in such vigilante action are “proud” and are posting it on public online networks, and that the “evidence is there” for gardaí to pursue.

Harris told the meeting that it’s “impossible” for gardaí to be on every social network, adding that “some of them are very difficult to penetrate”.

He said images shared on social media are “fleeting”, making it harder to follow up.

Dromahair ‘checkpoints’

The committee heard of “checkpoints” set up by a vigilante style group in Dromahair in Leitrim last Friday, which Costello said mirrored a group in Inch in Co Clare last May.

A vacant hotel in the village has been earmarked accommodation for international protection applicants.

The Department of Integration told The Journal that its community engagement team is meeting with public representatives, the local authority and other locals on “issues being raised and sharing information as it becomes available”.

It follows one local group in Dromhair, which has formed to welcome asylum seekers, telling The Journal that it had sought a meeting with the department in a “neutral” venue, after claims that it had not been allowed entry to a meeting with representatives held last night.

The department said it could not respond to the claim tonight due to the “volume” of queries it has been receiving in general.

‘Interrogated’

“In Dromahair, there was checkpoints set up, cars were being stopped, being interrogated for ID; we saw that in Inch as well, where protesters ordered, demanded ID took names, took details,” Costello said.

“None of this received a policing response.”

This was disputed by Harris, who claimed gardaí have been “unable” to find a basis for the allegation about checkpoints and people being stopped in Dromahair.

Harris said that all reported incidents are investigated, but that sometimes these reports surface on social media and it is hard for gardaí to find a witness.

In a response to The Journal earlier this week, the Garda Press Office said it had received “reports of incidents” related to a public gathering in Dromahair last Friday night and that it was making enquiries.

Bernie Linnane, local Labour representative who lives in Dromhair, contradicted the commissioner when speaking to The Journal, stating that she knows two people who were stopped and asked for identification last Friday night.

She added that the events of last Thursday in Dublin were “feeding out into the provinces”, leading to other actions against migrants and asylum seekers.

“A lot of people had contacted me and others saying they’re very uncomfortable with what they saw last Friday night, saying that this is not what the village is about,” Linnane said.

“One man was going to get a bag of chips and he had someone shining a light into his car, asking for his passport. Nobody carries their passport coming into Dromahair.

“It’s quite comical but my daughter is 19 and what if she or another woman is stopped like that in the dark and is being asked for documents. It’s very unsettling.”

Protests

Costello also mentioned protests in Coole, Co Westmeath overnight, which saw a local group “try and block people accessing buildings” for accommodation. Harris said the reports from Coole were under investigation.

Costello also questioned whether anything was done in relation to a TD being assaulted outside the Dáil in September last year.

In response, the commissioner said he was unaware of the alleged assault of a TD last year but would find out more.