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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
anti-immigration protests

Simon Harris: 'It's not for any of us' to question decisions of Gardaí on the ground at protests

The Justice Minister said that he has full confidence in members of the Gardaí to implement the law when policing protests.

THE JUSTICE MINISTER has said that it is “not for any of us to second guess the operational decision that a garda on the frontline has to make” when he was questioned on the effectiveness of the Gardaí’s methods around the policing of protests. 

Simon Harris, who was speaking from Dublin Castle to mark the opening of the new Dublin Metropolitan Region Garda office, said that he has “full confidence” in members of the Gardaí who are policing protests. 

The Minister went on to say that while it is “very easy for us to pick up on small details” of what happened with anti-immigration protests in Dublin over the last two weekends, and of the blockade outside an asylum seeker centre in Co Clare last week, we do so “without knowing the full scenario”. 

Harris said that when it comes to the policing of protests, “I have to trust the gardai, the people on the ground, the people who have access to the full facts and all the material,”, adding that the policing plan in place is one that aims to “diffuse situations”. 

Speaking about an incident that occurred in Santry over the weekend, where anti-immigration protesters waving a tricolour stopped vehicles carrying asylum seekers from entering a newly designated centre, Harris said the scenes were “abhorrent”. 

“The Irish flag has always represented equality, it has represented a welcome, peace, and inclusion, and to see that flag hijacked by a very small number of individuals who do not speak for Ireland, who do not have any democratic authority to speak for Ireland, is really utterly despicable. 

“We should never overstate the numbers involved in this, but nor should we tolerate it. There is a very clear line between protest and intimidation. 

“I have no doubt that the Gardaí will continue to apply the law, we have already seen in the DMR alone, eleven arrests, we’ve seen a number of prosecutions. Let me be very clear as Minister for Justice, you cannot impede someone from going about your life,” Harris said. 

Concerns about policing methods have been raised by opposition politicians and members of the public after tents belonging to asylum seekers were torched by anti-immigration protesters on the Friday evening before last on Sandwith Street in Dublin city, despite a large garda presence in the area that evening. 

Concerns were also raised by a group supporting asylum seekers last week that a blockade outside of an asylum seeker centre in Co Clare took six days to end, and claims that protesters boarded a bus to conduct a headcount of asylum seekers on board. 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who was also present at Dublin Castle today, said that the Gardaí are not taking a “softly softly” approach when it comes to the far-right, but rather that the force is trying to not “fall into the trap” by pursuing enforcement action that may be viewed as disproportionate. 

“Two aspects of [the far-right's] playbook let us know what they want to achieve; one, they want to act on local fears and concerns, and gather up a crowd, on occasions they have been successful, and on others they have been completely refuted. 

“Two, they want an over response from the authorities, we won’t fall into that trap,” Harris said. 

The commissioner added that police forces in other parts of the world have taken a “different approach” to the far-right, which he argued has not always been successful. 

He added that the Garda Special Detective Unit is conducting investigations “all the time” into material posted online, and also into the “activities of certain individuals”. 

“When we get to the point of seeing persistent unlawful acts we will act upon that,” Harris said, but added that the immediate response of Gardaí in protest type situations needs to be “proportionate” to what they see in front of them. 

When asked to explain the policing in the lead up to tents being set on fire in Dublin earlier this month, the commissioner said that officers policing opposing protests taking place in the area were in a “difficult situation”.

“We had the protest, and the counter-protest, and the operational commanders on the ground had to manager that. Part of that was protecting the counter-protesters and seeing them out of the area. In the intervening period then, the tents were set on fire, very regrettably they were lost. That whole situation is under investigation,” he said. 

The Commissioner went on to say that it is not true that Gardaí are not being adequately trained to police these protests, adding that management provides “very extensive training”.