Taoiseach’s comments on Garda resourcing to combat far right queried within force

Minister for Justice Simon Harris twice avoids directly responding to Taoiseach’s claim there are too few gardaí to deal with anti-immigration violence

Gardaí have questioned a statement by Leo Varadkar that there were not enough gardaí available to effectively combat anti-immigration attacks, with one Garda source saying the Taoiseach appeared to be trying to “deflect” from housing policy failures that have resulted in asylum seekers sleeping on the streets.

The issue of staffing was raised at a meeting between Minister for Justice Simon Harris and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Monday. This was called following Friday night’s incident at Sandwith Street in Dublin which saw anti-immigration protesters force a small number of international protection applicants out of tents in which they were living.

The Minister said the commissioner assured him he had the resources required for “operational integrity” and could carry out his policing plans. Mr Harris was “absolutely satisfied” with the commissioner’s assurance.

Asked twice on RTÉ One’s Six One News if he agreed with Mr Varadkar that there were too few gardaí in Dublin to prevent immigration-related violence, Mr Harris avoided directly responding. Instead he said it was “a statement of fact we want to increase Garda numbers” and that “we can always do with more gardaí”.


Garda sources said there was no shortage of personnel last Friday night, adding that if more gardaí had been available they would not have been used as the operation was fully staffed. They believed Mr Varadkar’s remarks demonstrated a lack of knowledge about how the Garda had run policing operations at anti-immigration protests in recent years.

The tactic, they said, was to avoid flooding protest scenes with as many gardaí as possible because senior Garda management had long decided a more subtle and nuanced approach should be taken to avoid ratcheting up tensions at the events. They added that while public order, and some arson attacks, had been directed at asylum seekers over the last year, there had been a marked lack of violence around anti-immigration protests compared to other countries.

Speaking in Limerick on Monday, Mr Varadkar condemned the aggressive protesting at Sandwith Street. The encampment site was damaged in a fire later that night and although the asylum seekers were not present, some of them lost their belongings.

There was also a small protest outside the International Protection Office on Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2, on Saturday. Gardaí reported minor scuffles between some of those present and two gardaí, while a foreign man walking on the street at the time was followed and shouted at.

When asked if there were enough gardaí in Dublin to prevent incidents like that seen last week, Mr Varadkar said “no”, adding he was “really shocked and horrified to see what happened in Dublin [during] the last couple of days”. He was “worried” other incidents could happen, saying they had been witnessed “in other countries”.

“No human being should be burnt or attacked or have to face this kind of hatred no matter where they’re from and what their back story is,” he said, adding those responsible would be brought to justice. Stating there were not enough gardaí on the streets to Dublin to combat the violence, Mr Varadkar added funding was in place to recruit an additional 1,000 Garda members this year, with that process under way.

Last Friday evening there was a stand-off on Sandwith Street between supporters of the asylum seekers living there in tents and others protesting against their presence in the Republic. A line of Garda members stood between the two groups, for about two hours, before the group supporting the asylum seekers was escorted out of the area by gardaí and the other protesters also dispersed.

Gardaí believe some members of the far right as well as young men from Dublin’s inner city were involved in the scenes witnessed on Friday night, saying it appeared the fire was set by very young men, possibly teenagers.

Garda sources said policing incidents like that witnessed on Friday night drew policing resources away from other parts of Dublin city. However, they did not believe gardaí had somehow been frustrated by a lack of personnel in their efforts to prevent immigration-related violence, stressing policing at protests had been deliberately kept low-key and were marked by a lack of violence, with few exceptions.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times