File image of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. PA
NI Protocol

Garda Commissioner says loyalist rally reports may be ‘kite flying’

Drew Harris said gardaí would be prepared if a rally did take place in Dublin.

GARDA COMMISSIONER DREW Harris has said reports of a loyalist rally in Dublin in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol may be “no more than kite flying”.

But Harris stressed that if such a protest did take place then the force would be “prepared for it”.

There have been a number of loyalist rallies in NI linked to the Protocol.

The Protocol is part of the Brexit deal which is opposed by unionists and loyalists because it creates a trading barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Last month it was reported that loyalists were planning a major protest in Dublin.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson told the Sunday Independent newspaper that it would be a “colourful protest” with marching bands in the city.

He told the paper: “We are planning a mass rally sometime after July 12, in the absence of a significant impact on the Protocol.

“If, on a busy Saturday afternoon, 300 loyalists arrived in the heart of Dublin for a peaceful protest, I’d imagine that may cause discomfort.”

But Harris said he had not “seen anything by way of firm plan or intention”.

He added: “We will obviously be in contact with our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and see what information they have.

“But at the same time, these seem to be tweets and public commentary.

I’m going to wait until we see something definite before responding to, in effect, what are tweets which I think might just be no more than kite flying at this moment in time.

He added: “Let’s actually see if there’s something which we need to plan for and prepare for.

“On the other side of this, I would say we are a very capable organisation in terms of keeping the peace and making sure that Dublin is a safe city.

“Whatever happens, we will be prepared for it.”

In 2006 a Love Ulster rally by loyalists through Dublin was abandoned following rioting and clashes between republican protesters and the gardaí, leading to a number of arrests and injuries.

Also speaking today, Harris said the situation with organised crime would be “far, far worse” if drugs were legalised.

Advocates for ending prohibition argue it would damage criminal gangs by targeting their main source of revenue, and say the ongoing, decades-long “war on drugs” has been a failure.

But Harris said organised crime would not disappear overnight and raised concerns over public health and societal problems.

He said current Garda anti-drugs operations have “great effect” and denied it was time for a different approach.

Harris said: “I don’t believe that we would just see the absence of organised crime groups, should we legalise all of these drugs tomorrow.

“There would be huge public health issues, but there will be ongoing crime issues as well, because it would mean the regulation of this industry then.

“I don’t think anyone has successfully thought through how all of this could be, in effect, legalised.”

He added: “I think the situation would be far, far worse, if we just allowed, in effect, a level playing field or open season on this.”

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