The number of anti-immigration protests in Dublin, where most such events are held, has declined significantly compared to the spike in activity which began at the end of last year and into 2023.
Furthermore, the number of arrests at the events in Dublin since the start of this year has now reached 17, though gardaí have insisted there has been no change in approach to their policing tactics to make them more robust.
The Irish Times has learned, through data collected by the Garda, that about 10 protest events were being held each week in the first two months of the year, though that has now fallen by roughly two-thirds. The current much smaller number of protests includes the recent spike in activity in Ballybrack, south Dublin, which has been the most active protest site in recent weeks.
In the period from the start of the year to last Friday, August 18th, the Garda in the Dublin Metropolitan Region policed 372 protests of all types. Of those protests 169 are categorised as being anti-immigration or against the housing of immigrants in particular areas.
Some 73 of the anti-immigrant protests took place in the period to February 23rd. However, in the following three months, to May 19th, the number of protests was lower at 54 events. And in the three months since then numbers have fallen further with 42 events held. That means three or four anti-immigration protests have been held each week in Dublin in the last three months – often at the same location daily – compared to nine or 10 events per week in the first months of the year.
However, while the level of protest activity has decline since the spike at the start of the year, the number of protests this year is still much higher than last year, when just 18 anti immigration protests were recorded by gardaí in the period to August 18th, 2020.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said while it was “a good thing” that fewer protests were happening in the Republic compared to the start of the year, many such events were still happening and they may increase again in the future. It added that protests had led to a lot of fear for those people living in hotels and other centres which were being targeted.
This often “re-traumatised” people who had fled war or persecution in their own countries, most of whom wished to return to their country of origin but were unable to do so. However, the spokeswoman added that in general people in Ireland had been very welcoming of newly-arrived migrants.
Garda sources said members of the far-right began organising the events against the presence of migrants in communities after the Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in very large numbers of Ukrainians coming to the Republic fleeing the war. The same sources said once it became clear late last year the need to house tens of thousands Ukrainians was significantly exacerbating the housing crisis, this was “seized upon” by a “hard core” in the far-right. Accommodation, where migrants of all nationalities were living, was then targeted by protest groups.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in May denied the force had taken a “softly, softly” approach to the far-right. However, he said one of the main features of the protesters’ “playbook” was to provoke “an over-response by the authorities of the State”. He insisted the Garda was not going to “fall into that trap” because the Garda being provoked into “confrontation” or clashes with far-right protesters “plays into their hands”.
In response to queries, Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said there had been 17 arrests relating to anti-immigration protests in Dublin this year, adding that level of arrests was consistent with the force’s long-term policing approach.
“There has been no change to the approach of An Garda Síochána in responding to protest activity,” the Garda said. “Where persons engage in criminal behaviour in the course of protest activity investigations are initiated.”