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Garda Commissioner says no failure in response to ‘unprecedented’ Dublin riots

The head of Ireland’s police force has said he has no intention of resigning and there was no failure in the policing response to riots in Dublin city, which saw millions of euros of damage caused to public infrastructure and shops looted.

The scenes last Thursday, which made headlines across the world, have put pressure on the Government over its ability to maintain safety in the Irish capital.

The main opposition party, Sinn Fein, has called on the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice Minister Helen McEntee to resign, a move that has been criticised by the Government.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee on justice, Mr Harris said he has “no intention whatsoever” of resigning.

“I care too much about the responsibilities that I have to protect the people of Ireland and to lead An Garda Siochana.”

Dublin city centre incident
A bus on fire on O’Connell Street in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

He rejected the suggestion the city was out of control and also said there was “no failure” by the police handling of the “uncontrollable” riot.

“They did a good job in terms of protecting the scene and gathering sufficient resources to deal with the riot in front of them.”

Mr Harris said stronger incapacitant spray will now be provided to all gardai, 200 tasers will be provided to public-order units, a business case for two water cannons will be submitted and there will be an increase in the number engaged in public-order training.

The disorder in Dublin on Thursday was preceded by a stabbing attack in which three children and a woman were injured.

Mr Harris said the riot followed an attempt by a minority to “corrupt the suffering” of the victims of that attack, in an attempt to further “their own narrow-minded and indeed vicious agenda”.

Mr Harris told the committee that 38 people had been arrested and “significant amounts of CCTV” footage had been gathered.

“Some of these individuals are undoubtedly a danger to society,” he told TDs and senators.

He said a separate investigation has been launched for those suspected of inciting serious public-order incidents or hatred via social media.

Ms McEntee has said she has asked the Policing Authority to provide clarity to gardai on the use of force.

The commissioner said it would be “welcome” but that the service already has its own decision-making model and proper tactics were deployed.

Dublin city centre incident
An Garda Siochana during the riot (Brian Lawless/PA)

Setting out a timeline of the disorder for the committee, Mr Harris said police resources were immediately deployed to maintain the crime scene after the stabbing at 1.30pm.

“Right from the first minute I knew this was a serious incident,” he said, adding that he left a meeting in Co Waterford after he heard the news.

The commissioner said a public-order unit was on the site at Parnell Square East at 2.15pm.

Mr Harris told the committee he first became aware of the incident at 2.19pm, and the first contact with Ms McEntee was at 2.49pm.

He said: “At approximately 3.45pm there was a small spontaneous anti-immigration protest nearby the Garden of Remembrance and this passed by without incident.

“At 4.30pm a group blocked the Luas [tram] at Parnell Street-O’Connell Street junction,” he said, adding that they did not have the garda members to move people off the tracks.

“This group grew and (by) 5.40pm a larger group of people, around 200, charged towards gardai and attacked them physically and verbally.

An Garda Siochana
Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (Niall Carson/PA)

“In an extremely serious and unprecedented situation, some of this group sought to break through our outer cordon into the actual crime scene cordon, but they were repelled.”

The Garda Commissioner said that by 6.30pm, further attacks on garda and public transport vehicles, as well as looting, began.

He said by 7pm, approximately 500 people were involved in disorder.

He said 250 public-order gardai were at the scene, the “largest-ever” such deployment.

“While the intense violence was shocking and distressing, calm was being restored immediately as gardai deployed and was largely restored in the city centre by 10pm and full order was restored by 11.30pm.”

Mr Harris said Dublin city was “back open for business” on Friday, noting that other capital cities in Europe have seen normal society shut down “for days”.

“Having said that, it’s very clear we’re now facing a different form of disorder than we’ve experienced before and we in An Garda Siochana must evolve in terms of our tactics and equipment to address this.”

He said that the far right poses “a threat across Europe” and that “prejudice” then becomes “discrimination and hatred”.

He said that many involved “are fully convinced of conspiracy theories and the arguments that they have” and are “not open to rational discussion”.

“They have been radicalised in terms of their activity online and in their subsequent behaviours, and they do seem to be able to gather and garner support.”

He added: “We need to be careful about the core group and then those on the margins of it.”

Dublin city centre incident
A bus on fire on O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre (Brian Lawless/PA)

Answering questions from TDs about WhatsApp messages being used to respond to the disorder, Mr Harris said that WhatsApp is used to circulate “legitimate” messages when Garda members are being sought for overtime.

He said that people were saying to each other “I’m going in, you’re about to get a call” or seeing what was happening on social media and going to their Garda station.

“There’s an element of people responding themselves knowing that they would be called upon,” he said.

He said there will have to be “a refocus towards visibility” to help people feel safer after the riots.

“What is clear is we’re not going to be able to arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem on our own. That is going to require a redirection of resources,” he said.

Mr Harris said the overall force is short of 1,000 personnel but he was “absolutely” satisfied that Dublin city centre would be adequately policed in the run-up to Christmas.