Gardaí are to be equipped with , water cannons and stronger pepper spray as part of a suite of measures to enable the force to respond to any repeat of last week’s violence in Dublin.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee also announced that the current Garda recruit class will graduate from Templemore a month early, on December 15th, so that they will be available to work on the streets the following day for the Christmas period. They will return to Templemore for top-up training in January.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris outlined a range of measures to bolster public order policing during an appearance in front of the Oireachtas justice committee on Wednesday.
The committee heard the measures include arming public order gardaí with Tasers, a less-than-lethal weapon that is currently only issued to specialist armed units. Initially 200 Tasers will be procured.
There are plans to issue all front-line members with stronger pepper spray and to increase the numbers trained in riot control from the current 1,000.
Gardaí are also preparing a “business case” for the purchase of two water cannons for riot control.
Rioters set buses and Garda vehicles on fire, clashed with police and looted shops last Thursday. It followed anti-immigrant protests after three children and a care worker were stabbed outside a school by a man described in the immediate aftermath by far-right groups as an Algerian immigrant.
The suspect is a naturalised Irish citizen, originally from Algeria and a resident of Ireland for 20 years.
The Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee have been under pressure to explain the hours-long delay in bringing the violence under control until late on Thursday night, by which time extensive damage to city centre shops and public transport had occurred.
Mr Harris rejected calls that he should resign over how the Garda handled the rioting that caused millions of euro of damage to Dublin city centre.
“I care too much about this job, about the responsibilities that I have to protect the people of Ireland and to lead An Garda Síochána,” Mr Harris said.
He defended the resources deployed on the night, but conceded it had not been possible to block rioters from moving around the city centre earlier in the evening.
“It has to be said that we did not have sufficient numbers to successfully conduct that kind of operation until later in the evening, from around 7.30pm onwards,” he said.
The current high-visibility policing in place in the city centre will also continue over Christmas, Mr Harris told the committee.
In the medium term, public order gardaí will be equipped with “enhanced vehicles” and round shields. These shields will be smaller than the current riot shields issued to gardaí and will allow officers to wield a baton or other weapon in their offhand, a source said.
They will allow gardaí to move quickly to snatch troublemakers and bring them behind garda lines.
Body cameras will be deployed to Dublin gardaí from the middle of 2023, a year ahead of schedule, while the Garda Dog Unit will also be expanded.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties raised concerns about “knee-jerk, rushed responses” to the riots and cautioned about safety and civil liberties issues around the use of Tasers and water cannons.
Their deployment are “significant policy shifts that demand careful consideration”, said ICCL executive director Liam Herrick.
Asked about online incitement of the violence, Mr Harris said the Garda could not monitor all digital media channels.
“We’re not on every network,” he said, urging members of the public to report offensive material to gardaí.
Ronan Slevin, deputy general secretary of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), described the next intake of recruits as “an attempt to make the figures look better”.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland on Thursday, Mr Slevin said the next intake group “just at the end of the year” will be “sent home” and will not start training until January.
Target figures for 2024 did not address the overall issue, which was that there was still a deficit of 1,000 gardaí at present, he said.
The current job and training allowance of €305 was still insufficient to attract anybody with a “normal” cost of living away from a career or to go into the Garda training college for eight months “on such a miserable amount of an allowance,” Mr Slevin said.
There was also a retention issue with between 450 and 500 members resigning or retiring every year, he said.
On the promise of more equipment such as body cams, Tasers and pepper spray, Mr Slevin said the GRA would give a cautious welcome for “any additional equipment which would help to ensure the health and safety of our members on the frontline”.
“We would like to see more public order training for all members of An Garda Síochána back to the way it used to be. So you have a basic level of understanding on how to handle riotous situations like what happened last Thursday,” Mr Slevin said.
He also called for a rollout of Tasers to more frontline units to deal with violent situations “which are happening on a more regular basis across the country and not just in Dublin”.
When asked about comments on language used by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice to describe those involved in the incidents in Dublin last Thursday, Mr Slevin said “some of this stuff is just detracting from the main issue”.
In addition to a review of the policing of the riots, various criminal investigations are continuing.
Gardaí from Mountjoy station are investigating the stabbing attack. A five-year-old girl and an adult carer remain in a serious condition. The suspected attacker is still in an induced coma and has not been interviewed.
A criminal investigation is continuing into the riots, with gardaí promising more arrests in the coming weeks while the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation is looking at a core group of far-right agitators to determine what role it played in inciting the violence.
According to an analysis by Moonshot, a company that monitors violent extremism for clients including the UK Government, there were 91 international social media posts referencing Dublin from influential figures among the extreme right during and immediately after the violence.
These erroneous online posts often talked of “invasions” by migrants into Ireland and endorsed acts of violence against Muslims and other minorities.
There were also high volumes of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, with users falsely claiming the initial knife attack was “Jewish-funded terrorism”, said Moonshot chief executive Ross Frenett.
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