President condemns far right hiding behind ‘mask of protester’

Higgins’s comments about ‘vigilantes’ at public libraries come as gardaí raise concern about protests outside Taoiseach’s home

President Michael D Higgins said the protection of public libraries and their staff from attacks by the far right should be regarded as a priority. Photograph: Sam Boal/Collins Photos

President Michael D Higgins has added his voice to growing concerns around the nature of far-right protests in the Republic, singling out those who targeted public libraries and their staff in recent years.

His remarks, in which he labelled such protesters as “vigilantes”, followed another protest, by a masked anti-migrant group, outside the home of Taoiseach Simon Harris on Friday.

Though the events outside libraries have often taken place under the guise of anti-transgenderism, they are seen by the Garda and many in Government as part of the same far-right agitator agenda, and often involve the same people, as the anti-migrant protests.

In an address at the annual Bloomsday garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin on Sunday, Mr Higgins said the protection of public libraries and their staff from attacks by the far right should be regarded as a priority for everyone in a civilised society and not just a job for An Garda Síochána.


Those who intimidate library staff and tear up books “hide behind the mask of ‘protester’, but must be called out for what they are – vigilantes attempting to censor, some of whom are committing criminal offences”.

The President was speaking in the wake of a number of incidents at libraries around the country, in which staff and events have been targeted and interventions by gardaí were sometimes required.

Though Mr Higgins did not reference the protest outside the family home of Mr Harris in Greystones, Co Wicklow, on Friday night, Garda sources said they were concerned small numbers of people remain undeterred from gathering outside the property. A group of about six protesters, who were masked and carrying Tricolours, gathered very briefly for a photograph and video opportunity.

They engaged with gardaí who were posted outside the house and gave assurances, when asked, that they would remain peaceful.

They made brief remarks about objecting to the Ballyogan Regional Temporary Rest Centre in south Dublin, and about the Covid-19 vaccine. Last month 13 arrests were made outside the Ballyogan centre, for those seeking refuge in Ireland, after clashes between protesters and gardaí.

After gathering briefly, for a matter of minutes, outside Mr Harris’s family home, the protesters dispersed and were flanked by uniform gardaí, with detectives on standby. Footage of the gathering was later posted on social media, with Garda Headquarters saying the group moved on when asked to.

While the Taoiseach’s office declined to comment on the incident at the weekend, when a protest was held outside his home last month Mr Harris said private dwellings should be “out of bounds” to protesters.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times