Gardaí policing far right are being intimidated and fear for their safety, GRA president says

Members ‘second guessing’ legislation around policing intimidatory anti-immigration protests

Policing the activities of the far right represents a “huge challenge” and gardaí are worried for their safety, the head of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said.

Speaking in advance of the GRA’s annual conference, Brendan O’Connor said gardaí are themselves being intimidated and are concerned the current public order legislation does not allow them to take action.

He referenced recent protests outside the homes of elected representatives, including one last week outside the home of Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman during which masked protesters stopped traffic and hung up anti-immigration banners on the property. Gardaí were present but no arrests were made.

The incident has been widely condemned by politicians, with Taoiseach Simon Harris querying if new legislation is needed in response.


“The legislation that we’re relying on was probably drafted at a time when this sort of situation wasn’t envisaged. So our members are struggling to provide an appropriate or robust response, because they’re second guessing the legislation,” Mr O’Connor said.

He welcomed the Taoiseach’s comments on new legislation, but said additional personnel, training and equipment are also needed.

One of the proposals to be debated at the conference is to provide each frontline garda with a riot helmet to respond to serious public order incidents.

Mr O’Connor said basic public order training used to be part of the training for every recruit garda but that this is no longer the case.

“We are not prepared, we’re not educated, and we’re not trained to deal with the challenges of policing a modern society.”

Gardaí are on the receiving end of personal abuse “based on everything, including religion and identity”, he said.

“They’re worried about their own safety. They’re being intimidated. So it’s very challenging.”

Unusually, neither Garda Commissioner Drew Harris or Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will attend the conference which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday in Westport, Co Mayo.

The Commissioner was not invited by the GRA in protest over various issues, including the new Garda roster system, the disciplinary procedures introduced by Mr Harris and the increasing number of administrative duties imposed on gardaí.

Ms McEntee said it would not be appropriate for her to attend if the Commissioner is not invited.

It is “disappointing” the Minister has chosen not to attend, said GRA Deputy General Secretary Ronan Slevin said, adding she is still welcome if she changes her mind.

James Morrisroe, a member of the GRA’s Central Executive Committee, said if something like the Dublin riots happened again, front line units would be unable to respond to it adequately. He said he is not aware of any additional public order training which has been provided to frontline, non-specialist units, since the riots.

The GRA leadership were also critical of an order from the Commissioner that each Garda carries out 30 minutes of roads policing during their shift to response to increasing numbers of road deaths.

Mr O’Connor said the danger is it will be nothing more than “a statistical exercise” and will simply result in gardaí recording what they are already doing. The organisation has become “statistically obsessed”, he said.

Mr Morrisroe said the strength of the Roads Policing Bureau has dropped by half in a decade. He said the new direction is a “PR exercise” by management and could result in longer response times to incidents.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times