A small hardcore group of far right agitators was last night at the centre of the Garda’s investigations into the Dublin riots as detectives try to to unearth evidence that would lead to criminal charges against them.
While the arrests and charges to date have focused on those allegedly involved in last Thursday’s rioting, another priority element is to bring to justice those ringleaders who sparked the violence.
Members of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) were gathering social media posts, as well as written and voice content from messaging apps, to ground incitement of hatred charges.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his senior management team were today due to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice to update public representatives on the investigations to date and future policing plans.
Garda Headquarters said on Tuesday night that Mr Harris met his senior management team on earlier that day, including his deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners, adding “a range of positive actions were discussed and agreed relating to public order and operational policing”.
Garda Representative Association (GRA) representative for the Garda’s Dublin West division, Mark Ferris, told The Irish Times while gardaí had shown “courage” in bringing the riots under control, the absence of basic facilities such as lockers at Garda stations had hampered the deployment of Public Order Unit members as trouble first flared.
Even though many public order-trained gardaí were on duty in the city on Thursday, in conventional uniforms, the lack of storage space in their stations meant they stored their public order uniforms and kit at home. When the violence began, they had to leave the city centre and go home to get their protective uniforms before they could be deployed with batons and shields on to the streets.
Mr Ferris added some gardaí had been unwilling to use force against the rioters due to a “culture of outright fear” of being investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) and then prosecuted by the DPP. That view was echoed by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).
However, Gsoc last night denied this, saying it was “concerned at the suggestion” the “independent oversight of policing by Gsoc may have a role in hindering” the Garda’s “ability to effectively and appropriately address public order incidents”. This was “categorically not the case” as it did not discipline, suspend or prosecute gardaí.
The five-year-old girl who was most seriously injured in the stabbing on Parnell Square East, that precipitated the riots, was still fighting for her life in Temple Street Hospital in the city centre on Tuesday night, with grave concerns for her survival chances. A teacher, who was also stabbed as she tried to shield the children, remained in the Mater hospital. The chief suspect, a 49-year-old man, was also seriously ill in hospital and had still not been arrested or interviewed due to the extent of his head injuries.
Meanwhile, the Government has rowed in behind Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Mr Harris, and strongly criticised a call from Sinn Féin for the Minister to resign voluntarily. Sinn Féin will decide by the end of the week whether to formally table a motion of confidence in Ms McEntee, but both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin have given her their full backing.
Ms McEntee plans to seek clarity on the use of force by gardaí from the Policing Authority. “I don’t want members of An Garda Síochána looking over their shoulders responding to these incidents where they feel that force is necessary. I want them to have the confidence to respond in the way that they deem appropriate.
“So I am asking the authority to provide that clarity for members of An Garda Síochána so they do not feel that they are operating with their hands behind their backs.”
Mr Varadkar said Ms McEntee had been “leading” and “extremely active” on the issues of law and order and criminal justice during her term in office.
Mr Martin also gave the Minister and commissioner his backing at a press conference in Farmleigh House last night at the conclusion of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
“I’ve observed Sinn Féin now for the last four to five years. It is without question a party that seeks to exploit every issue that arises as opposed to coming forward with constructive ideas as to how to resolve them. I have absolute confidence in the Minister for Justice.”
The Social Democrats, Labour and People Before Profit have all indicated that they would vote no confidence in Ms McEntee should Sinn Féin table a motion of no confidence in the justice minister.
Two Fianna Fáil Senators have now called on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to step aside.
Senator Timmy Dooley told the Seanad on Tuesday that “Gardaí were afraid last Thursday evening to draw their batons to protect themselves and others and to protect public and private property because they were afraid of being reprimanded at a later stage. In my view, that is breathtaking. It is deeply disturbing.
“Having listened to gardaí for the past couple of years and having analysed closely the failures of last Thursday, it is my view that it is time for a new Commissioner to be appointed.”
A similiar call was made by Senator Erin McGreehan.