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Drew Harris at the meeting.
AS IT HAPPENED

As it happened: Commissioner tells TDs he cares about job 'too much' to consider resigning

Harris promised that the garda presence in Dublin will not ‘fall off a cliff edge’ after Christmas.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 29th 2023, 3:25 PM

AMID CALLS FOR his resignation, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris faced a grilling from TDs at the Oireachtas justice committee today after the riots in Dublin last week.

Harris told them that he cares about his job and his responsibility to the public “too much” to consider resigning, after calls for him to go over how rioting was handled last Thursday.

He told politicians at the meeting that public order gardaí will be equipped with tasers in the future in order to enhance their capabilities.

The Commissioner answered tough questions on how staffing levels impacted the force’s ability to break up rioting and looting, and admitted that Gardaí weren’t able to close off the streets where rioting was occurring on until 7.30pm because of limited numbers. 

He also disputed claims that command and control fell to the wayside, leading to Gardaí being called in informally by their peers on Whatsapp.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee also took Leaders Questions in the Dáil today. 

Renewed calls from Sinn Féin TD and party justice spokesperson Pearse Doherty this morning for the resignation for Harris and McEntee as a result of the events last Thursday are placing more pressure under the pair.

Both are facing a litany of criticism over the last number of days as the opposition largely believe the garda response to the riots was not adequate and allowed for the violent group to take over the streets.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee will be taking Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil at midday. 

The Fine Gael TD has has come under mounting pressure since the riots in Dublin city centre last Thursday, with the opposition calling for her and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to resign.

The riots came after a five-year-old girl was seriously injured and left in critical condition following a stabbing incident near a school in the city earlier in the day. 

It was also reported yesterday that McEntee is to put forward a review aiming to provide clarity on the use of force by gardaí responding to public order incidents similar to last Thursday’s riots.

Stick with us as we bring you the latest on Leaders’ Questions shortly and Harris at the Oireachtas justice committee at 1.30pm. 

Leaders’ Questions have begun in the Dáil. 

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly is speaking now. She said she is “heartbroken” by what she saw last Thursday. 

Capture Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly speaking in the Dáil Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Addressing McEntee, O’Reilly said of last Thursday’s riots: “Your assertion that nobody saw this coming is a water weak defence. Everybody saw this coming, Minister.” 

She said after the attack on Thursday afternoon, “people held their breath for even a hint that the perpetrator might not be Irish. They knew this would be exploited by those who seek to sow hate, division and mayhem”. 

“We needed a decisive early and quick public order policing intervention to contain the trouble and nip it in the bud. That is not what we got,” O’Reilly said. 

O’Reilly said McEntee’s position is “untenable”, adding the Minister “should resign”. 

fdasdfasdf Minister for Justice Helen McEntee addressing the Dáil Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Addressing the Dáil, McEntee said: “Those responsible for inciting that hatred and that violence, those responsible for attacking members of An Garda Síochána, for setting buses on fire, they will be held responsible and they will be brought to justice.” 

Speaking of the Garda response, McEntee said: “We say the best of An Garda Síochána coming together to protect our city.” 

She said that “we owe them a debt of gratitude”. 

The Minister said “there will be lessons learned, as there should be”. 

Labour leader Ivana Bacik is now speaking before the Dáil. 

Capturedasfasdf Labour leader Ivana Bacik Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Bacik told McEntee that “all of us now, and especially those of us in Dublin, are still waiting for a clear message from you about what real action you and your government are taking now to make the streets safe”. 

“Minister, you need to address morale issues and you need to make training more attractive,” Bacik said of the issues within An Garda Síochána. 

“Our communities need more guarding on the streets with a functioning leadership and real political accountability,” the Labour leader said. 

Captureadfadf Minister for Justice Helen McEntee Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

“All of the work that I have been doing is because I have been listening to the concerns that people have, the zero tolerance strategy,” McEntee said. 

“I will do more. I know there’s more that needs to be done. There’s more that needs to be done to support our shopkeepers, those who are victims of theft, those who feel that their staff are not safe,” the Minister said. 

Bacik told McEntee that the issues within An Garda Síochána “did not start last Thursday afternoon”.

“We know about these issues in An Garda Síochána that have been building up for so long around morale, around recruitment, around retention,” she said. 

“We saw a lack of guidance on the ground, not just on Thursday night, but we’ve been seeing it for some time now.” 

Justice Minister Helen McEntee tells the Dáil that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has her “full support”. 

“The Garda Commissioner has the full support of this Government.” 

People Before Profit-Solidary TD Mick Barry is now speaking before the Dáil. 

Capture Mick Barry TD Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

“All along the line, Minister, your Government has underestimated the far-right … they are sufficiently emboldened to pose a real risk to life and limb. You’re about to make the same mistakes again,” Barry said. 

“We have always welcomed people into our country,” McEntee said. 

“Those who wish to live, who wish to work, who wish to set down roots, but also we have welcomed and will continue to welcome those who seek our help, who seek our assistance who seek international protection, be it those seek coming from Ukraine, who are in receipt of temporary protection or international protection applicants,” the Minister said. 

She noted that Ireland has seen a “significant increase” in those seeking protection in recent years. 

“We have, at every step of the way, done everything in our power to ensure that we are committed to and that we respond to our international obligations and that we provide support, that we provide a roof over people’s heads,” McEntee said. 

She said “there are real pressures at the moment on international protection and accommodation”. 

“But let me reassure the Deputy that mitigation measures will be in place if the Department is unable to provide accommodation for everyone.” 

Barry had raised concerns over reports that the State may not be able to provide accommodation to all asylum seekers who require it in the coming days. 

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Dublin today, Minister for Finance Micheal McGrath said what happened last Thursday was “an outrage”.

He said there has to be very real consequences for the people involved.

“​​There will be a coordinated and a sustained, multi-pronged government response to what happened because it’s not acceptable and it can never happen again.”

He said the Fianna Fáil party “fully supports” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and added that it also supports the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

“They have a difficult job to do. This is not about personalities, the opposition seem more interested in getting a head on a plate rather than actually tackling the issue,” he said.

When asked about international investor confidence in Ireland following the scenes last Thursday, the Minister said there’s “no doubt” they caused some damage.

“I’ve had occasion to talk to some large employers, small employers and their concern is for their staff, for people who are of lots of different nationalities who are living here in our capital city,” he said.

Earlier today, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted an image of a man sat drinking outside the school near which the stabbing incident happened last Thursday. 

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions earlier, Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly held up the image in the Dáil and said: “Minister, this is what greeted those children six days after the traumatic and horrific event that happened to three of their classmates and one of their staff members. 

“The school is terrified and traumatised. The school community wants answers and leadership and they are getting neither from you.

“This picture represents what Dublin city feels like to Dubliners on your watch, Minister. You should resign.”

Capture Minister for Justice Helen McEntee Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Responding, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that everyone has a “role to be responsible in this House”. 

“I think you should consider that before you start waving pictures around.” 

Labour leader Ivana Bacik also criticised the photo being shown in the Dáil. 

She said: “Undoubtedly, there’s been grandstanding from opposition, including waving of a photograph of an identifiable person in this House. That’s an outrageous action, that’s outrageous action, that’s outrageous grandstanding and I want to call that out.” 

Green Party TD also reacted to Mary Lou McDonald tweeting the image of the man outside the school. 

“There is no need to tweet this man’s photo as if there is a direct link to people who live or occupy inner city streets and the events of last week. This is ill advised and unfair,” she tweeted. 

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said there was “absolutely disgusting behaviour” by Sinn Féin in the Dáil chamber today “waving a printed out photograph of a clearly vulnerable individual”. 

“This tweet is outrageous from someone who wants to be Taoiseach.” 

McEntee told the Dáil this afternoon that she spoke with a Garda Detective from Pearse Street Station on Saturday, who was “actively engaged” with the social media companies throughout Thursday. 

McEntee said the Detective actively engaged with Meta, TikTok and X (formerly Twitter). 

“She said very clearly that social media companies, in particular TikTok and Meta, they were responding, they were engaging with gardaí and they were taking down these vile posts as they came up,” the Minister said. 

McEntee added: “X were not, they didn’t engage. They did not fulfill their own community standards.”

an-garda-siochana-commissioner-drew-harris Garda Commissioner Drew Harris Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will face questions from TDs at the Oireachtas justice committee at 1.30pm. 

A garda detective, who was on the scene of the attack that took place on Parnell Square last Thursday, told RTÉ’s Prime Time last night there was no information passed to gardaí on the ground about what was being organised.

Niall Hodgins, a garda detective and Garda Representative Association (GRA) spokesperson for Dublin North Central, said: “We weren’t informed of anything that was brewing in the background.

“What’s normal in these incidents is that a certain protocol kicks in. You seal off a scene of a serious crime – which happened – and always you would have, I guess, onlookers to a particular garda scene, whether it be a traffic accident or an incident of this nature.

“But no, there was no sense that anything was happening.”

Asked what the atmosphere was like at the scene, Hodgins said: “The dogs on the street knew that if word got out, of the incident, what may have happened.”

He added that Harris’ claims that the events were unprecedented and unpredictable are not in line with previous comments the commissioner had made relating to similar events involving anti-immigration groups.

Drew Harris gives opening statement to Oireachtas Justice Committee

drew Garda bosses before the committee.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is now seated before the Oireachtas Justice Committee following calls for his resignation from opposition politicians, over how the riots in Dublin were policed following a horrific attack on school children and a staff member last Thursday. 

Committee chair James Lawless, of Fianna Fail, has kicked things off by voicing his concern that many gardai appeared to be policing the riot without having had “public order training”. 

Lawless also said he is concerned that the riots were characterised as a “unexpected”, even though similar incidents – though not on the same scale – have occurred this year. He notes the protests on Sandwith Street, and outside the Dáil this year. 

Lastly Lawless asked what kind of “command and control” was in place within the Gardai as an organisation, considering revelations about gardaí had to send “Whatsapp messages to one another” to call more personnel in to the city centre. 

Harris will now give his opening statement. 

More gardaí to be armed with tasers, 38 arrested so far over riots and looting

Drew Harris has told the committee that garda leadership are taking steps to make sure their members are better equipped to manage public disorder, including arming public order gardaí with tasers, and smaller round shields.

Harris said that it has become clear that we are seeing a “different kind of disorder” in Dublin, following Thursday night, and that the Gardaí approach to policing disorder therefore needs to evolve too. 

He said that the unrest intensified on Thursday – starting with heckling from protest groups, and then graduated to a luas being halted on the tracks by a group, and a lare group attempted to breach the cordon at the crime scene on Parnell Square East, who were repelled by Gardaí. 

He said by 6.30pm fire attacks started on public transport vehicles and garda vehicles. 

Harris clarified that approximately 500 people were involved in the rioting.

He said that by 8pm 250 public order gardaí were deployed in response – the largest deployment of this unit in its history. 

Harris said the “intense violence that took place was shocking and distressing”, but he added that on the same night “calm was being restored immediately as gardaí were deployed”. 

He also said that thanks to gardaí “routine and necessary policing was also continuing throughout the rest of the city” and Dublin was open for business the following morning. 

Harris pointed out that “similar disorder” in other European cities has seen them shut down for “days” in the past. 

He said that incapacitance spray is going to be distributed to Gardai as part of their operational gear, as well as tasers for public order gardaí, and smaller rounder shields. 

Harris also said that garda leadership are putting together a business case for the procurement of two water cannons, and that they will be focusing on the expansion of the public order unit. 

Harris says Whatsapp claim was a 'distortion', as it's routinely used by management

The Garda Commissioner has said that he did see Whatsapp messages between Gardaí that were part of an effort to get more personnel to join the policing operation during the riots last Thursday, but that the messaging platform was already used by garda management as a way to contact members.

He said that claims by a GRA rep on Prime Time last night that personnel were calling each other into Dublin city from other counties in absence of a command and control plan were a “distortion” of what happened. 

Harris explained that Gardaí were letting each other know, “I’m going in, you are probably going to get a call”. 

He said that Gardaí were seeing what was happening on social media and volunteering to come into the city to assist the operation themselves. 

Harris says Gardaí didn't have numbers to 'bookend' streets rioters were on till 7.30pm

Harris has said that Gardaí policing the riot last thursday did not have enough “numbers” to “bookend” the city centre streets where rioting was taking place in Dublin until 7.30pm in the evening. 

By bookending, the Commissioner is referring to an operational tactic that sees Gardaí lined up at either end of the street, blocking off anyone from entering or exiting it. 

He said that O’Connell Street, Henry Street, and Talbot Street couldn’t be fully brought under control in this manner until later in the evening when personnel with public order training from the DMR and Eastern regions had joined public order unit gardaí deployed in the city centre. 

Harris said that trying to “bookend” these streets earlier in the evening when less Gardaí would have been on the scene would have been difficult because there are so many “side streets and alleyways in the city”.

He said eventually this part of the operation was successfully carried out, and rioters were effectively “pursed” out of these streets, and the “riotous mob” was broken up into smaller groups. 

Harris: Gardaí dealing with 'radicalised' far right actors using social media to garner support

The Garda Commissioner has said that Gardaí are dealing with far right actors who have become in effect “radicalised”, and are utilising social media to gain followers in Ireland. 

He said that he first spoke about the rise of the far right at a policing event in 2013. 

Senator Lynne Ruane asked him what, in his opinion, has been the driving force behind hate and violence in Ireland. 

He said that there is a need to be “careful” that we distinguish between a core group of far right actors and those who simply follow them on social media. 

“They are othering minority groups, if our response is to other them, we are doing it in reverse,” he said. 

“This starts from a place of prejudice and that then becomes discrimination and hatred, that sounds blunt, but that is what we see when dealing with these [individuals],” Harris explained. 

He said that people gardaí are dealing with in their investigation of far right organisation and involvement in public disorder events are “fully convinced of conspiracy theories and arguments”, and not open to “rational conversation”, and that then have been “in effect radicalised”. 

Harris added that this is a small, core group of people, rather than everyone who participates in protests, or shares some of the same views.

Harris won't resign, says it's not possible for Gardaí to monitor all far right networks

Drew Harris has said that it is “not possible” for Gardaí to monitor all of the social media, and Telegram app networks that far right actors communicate through. 

In response to questioning from TD Patrick Costello on what has been done to investigate recent reports of checkpoints being set up by vigilante style groups in Dromahair, Inch, and Coole in Westmeath, and individuals asking people travelling past to present ID. 

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

Costello responded that the people involved in this vigilante action are “proud” and are posting it on public online networks, and that the “evidence is there”. 

Harris said that though several GHearda members are dedicated to monitoring online activity, it is not possible for them to be across all networks, and that members of the public should report to them if they see something that they feel breaks the law online. 

Harris also said that he has no intention of resigning from his job. 

“I care too much about this job to resign, and the responsibilities I have including helping An Garda Siochana to protect the people of Ireland,” he said. 

Harris said that investigations have been carried out into 50 individuals so far this year and that Gardaí are awaiting directions from the DPP in several cases.

Former Justice Minister says 'gurriers' who attack Gardaí no longer think they'll be 'worse off'

Former Attorney General and Justice Minister Michael McDowell has voiced his opinion that “gurriers” who attack gardaí “no longer think they will come out of it worse off”, while questioning Harris on how confident gardaí are around use of force. 

“These people seem to have no respect, no real belief that they will come off the worst for it,” he said, before asking Harris is Gardaí are not confident in their ability to use force appropriately when under attack. 

McDowell, who is currently a senator, said that this was not an issue to the same extent in the past. 

Harris pointed to the 11,000 arrests made by Gardaí so far this year, and said that new measures like the further use of  spray, and public order gardaí being armed with tasers will also enhance members’ ability to protect themselves and others. 

McDowell also asked Drew Harris if civilian employees could look back through cctv footage rather than the timely task taking up garda hours. 

“The human eye does have weaknesses, and an image that AI could find might be lost, whether people are masked or not doesn’t matter as much as you capture the moment they are masked and unmasked,” Harris replied, advocating for the use of facial identification tools for retrospective investigations of serious crime instead. 

Four complaints against individual officers under investigation by garda watchdog

The Justice Committee meeting has suspended, as a Dáil vote is taking place in the chamber. 

One of the most significant revelations to come from the meeting thus far is the announcement that garda leadership plan to provide access to tasers for all gardaí.

It’s a measure that some personnel have called for for years, read more about the development here.

Our correspondent Niall O’Connor has reported that four complaints have been made against individual officers to the Garda watchdog since the rioting on Thursday. Read the full story here.

'No cliff edge after Christmas' - Harris vows that increased garda visibility is here to stay

Drew Harris has promised politicians at the Justice Committee that there will be no “cliff edge” in terms of garda visibility on Dublin city streets after Christmas. 

He said that he believes that the introduction of recent Templemore graduates, including 172 in March and another contingent in June, will boost the force’s efforts to increase patrols around the city. 

Harris said that he does not know how many garda trainees have dropped out of the course prematurely this this. He said he believes there has been “some improvement” in the conditions that gardaí are coming into when they graduate. 

He added that underrepresentation within the force is an ongoing issue, and that efforts are and will be made to recruit women and people from ethnic minorities. 

Harris said that there has been a “reprioritisation” of policing activities by garda leadership, and that will be upheld beyond Christmas. 

When asked earlier in the meeting if bulking out the garda presence in Dublin will mean less policing presence in other areas of the country, he said that An Garda Siochana is a “national” organisation, and that it takes its duties in all regions equally seriously. 

Harris also informed TDs and Senators that on Thursday, less than an hour elapsed between the time when he found out about the stabbing incident that saw multiple children and a woman hospitalised in the city, and when he first called the Minister of Justice to discuss the matter. 

Author
Eimer McAuley and Hayley Halpin