Dublin riots: Pressure mounts on Helen McEntee and Drew Harris over Garda response

Suspect for stabbings that triggered unrest under armed guard in hospital as child (5) remains in serious condition

Pressure was mounting on the Government and Garda on Friday night in the wake of Thursday’s riots in Dublin as Minister for Justice Helen McEntee insisted she would not resign and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris denied there were “personnel failures” inside the force.

Ms McEntee said she was “absolutely focused on the job at hand” and that the challenges now facing the State required “unity” rather than calls for resignations. She also briefed the Cabinet about the violence and Garda investigations under way.

A review is under way into the Garda’s approach to the more aggressive tactics of the far right.

On Friday night, a large-scale policing operation was in place across Dublin city, including mobile public order units travelling in fleets of vans, as gardaí braced for further violence.


Gardaí said arrests were made on Friday evening on O’Connell Street during an operation aimed at preventing a group from gathering on suspicion they were intent on creating further unrest.

Asked about the police handling of Thursday’s rioting, Mr Harris said Garda members had responded “in an extraordinary fashion” to the riots but that “nobody could have anticipated” such violence would flare in the wake of the stabbing of three children, aged five and six years, and a carer in her 30s, outside a childcare facility on Parnell Square East at lunchtime on Thursday.

A man in his late 40s, who was overpowered at the scene by passersby, is the only suspect in the attack. He remained under armed guard in a Dublin hospital on Friday night. One of the children, a five-year-old girl, suffered a stab wound to the chest and remains seriously ill in Temple Street hospital. Two other children, a boy (5) and girl (6), were also injured and taken to the children’s hospital in Crumlin. While the boy was treated and discharged, the girl was still there on Friday night.

Garda sources said the injured woman, who was in the Mater hospital due to stab wounds, had used her body to shield the children from the attacker.

The suspect’s accommodation was searched by gardaí, with his laptop and phone seized for examination. The motive for the attack remained unclear, with officers studying the suspect’s background, a naturalised Irish citizen who has been living in the Republic for about 20 years.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed his support for Mr Harris and Ms McEntee, saying the people involved in the riots had “brought shame” on Ireland. The damage they had caused, burning Garda cars and buses, vandalising a Luas tram and looting shops, would cost “tens of millions” of euro.

“Being Irish means more than saluting the Tricolour, beating your chest and pointing to where you were born,” said Mr Varadkar.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Ms McEntee and Mr Harris to resign saying she had “no confidence” in them. She added the Garda had “lost control” of parts of Dublin’s inner city on Thursday night after “catastrophic operational failures”.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, who represents the same constituency as Ms McDonald, said it was “very typical” of Sinn Féin to use an occasion such as this for political purposes. He accused Sinn Féin of using “every moment of great difficulty as an opportunity to attack and to deride”.

Many within Government were left reeling from the events and stressed that an improved policing presence around the city is imperative. Sources acknowledge that the political fallout from Thursday’s violence would continue into next week when Ms McEntee and the Government will face questions in the Dáil.

Riot response a major challenge for McEntee

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Some Fianna Fáil TDs were critical of the justice and policing policies prior to Thursday’s events.

“Fianna Fáil has been saying for 18 months that the city centre is becoming a threatening and unsafe place,” said Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan. “Yesterday’s stabbings and riots confirmed this.”

Gardaí were monitoring locations housing international protection applicants, including a direct provision centre in Finglas, north Dublin, after intelligence suggested it may be targeted. Gardaí were also reviewing online comments on messaging app channels making threats to Cabinet Ministers and calling for protests at their homes.

Senior officers said the new approach to the far right would involve much more forceful and swifter interventions at gatherings, with two water cannons sent by the Police Service of Northern Ireland following a Garda request.

Meanwhile, some 32 people arrested during the riots have been brought before the courts, charged with a variety of offences.

A large number of further arrests are anticipated as gardaí began the task of viewing about 6,000 hours of CCTV harvested from around the city centre in an attempt to identity rioters.

Thursday’s violence flared in the hours after the stabbing in the north inner city at about 1.30pm. A small far-right group gathered at the crime scene cordon and attempted to breach it, with the Garda Public Order Unit being deployed in response. Clashes quickly spread as rioters and looters took advantage of the situation.

Additional public order gardaí were drafted into Dublin from across the State, regaining control of the streets late on Thursday night. It was estimated that up to 500 people rioted for several hours, with some gardaí suffering assaults and injuries.

City centre retailers were left counting the cost of Thursday night’s disturbances and the disruption to public transport on Friday.

Arnold Dillon of Retail Ireland, a business representative group, said that footfall on Black Friday, traditionally one of the year’s busiest shopping days, was “significantly down” on what retailers had anticipated, with retailers Brown Thomas and Arnotts taking the decision to open later and close earlier.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times