Far right ‘not growing’, says Garda Commissioner, as number of protests halves

Drew Harris defends decision not to move more firmly against roadblock anti-immigration protesters

The far right has failed to grow in Ireland, bucking trends seen in other European countries, and gardaí will not “fall into the trap” of its “playbook”, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

He added robust policing tactics – such as those called for from some quarters to clear anti-immigration roadblocks – had been used by European police forces and had “not been successful”.

New figures obtained by The Irish Times show the number of anti-immigration protests being held in Dublin, where the majority of such events take place, has halved in recent months, from about nine events per week at their peak early in 2023. In the near eight-week period to February 23rd, some 73 anti-immigration protests were held in Dublin, according to the Garda data. However, in the three months since then, 54 protests have been held. Gardaí believe members of the far right are hijacking anti-immigration protests in some areas.

Releasing the figures, which contradict the narrative that protests were increasing, Garda Headquarters said there was a “constitutional right to the freedom of assemble and freedom of speech, subject to statutory provisions”. Any Garda response to protest events was “in keeping with a community policing model and graduated policing response” taking into account public safety, legislation and human rights.


Minister for Justice Simon Harris said it was “not for us to second-guess” the decisions made by frontline gardaí when they were on the ground dealing with complex forms of protest. However, he described as “abhorrent” the scenes witnessed at the Airways Industrial Estate, Santry, north Dublin, at the weekend. Anti-immigration protestors blocked the entrance to an industrial unit there, preventing international protection applicants being moved in, while waving the Tricolour.

“To see that flag hijacked by a very small number of individuals – who do not speak for Ireland, who have no democratic mandate – is really despicable and should be called out of such,” Mr Harris said.

The commissioner defended the decision by gardaí not to dismantle a roadblock erected by protesters in Inch, Co Clare, last week and the similar action in Santry, which was continuing last night. He said any direct and immediate policing action could create “a well of bad feeling” towards foreign nationals being moved into those areas. Instead, the Garda had to take a strategic and long-term approach, which kept the peace and fostered integration.

Using the roadblock in Inch as an example, he said the situation on the ground had been “overstated” by the media. In reality, within 24 hours of it being erected – to block access to a hotel asylum seekers were being moved to – solutions were being reached locally about its dismantling. Over the following days a resolution unfolded gradually, which he believed was much better than gardaí moving in very robustly and creating the “crisis” the far right was seeking.

The commissioner also denied reports the Garda had somehow facilitated protesters in Inch in gaining access to a bus so they could count the number of foreign nationals on board. While law-breaking would be investigated, gardaí were determined not to over-react, as the far right hoped for in a bid to bolster their small numbers.

“Across Europe we have seen a growth in the far right that hasn’t actually been replicated in Ireland,” he said, adding numbers in the Republic remained “small” and were not growing. However, the Garda was still “very mindful” of the threat posed by far right and it was clear they had a two-part “playbook”. Firstly, they wanted to “act on local fears, local concerns” and “gather up a crowd”. Secondly, a “classic part of their playbook” was to seek “an over-response” from the Garda.

“Confrontation, which plays into their [the far right’s] hands, is a trap we’re not falling into,” the commissioner said, speaking at a policing event in Dublin Castle on Monday. He added a Garda presence had been deployed to Santry, where some protesters had a “malign purpose”. The Garda was seeking to dispel “the fears and myths that are being propagated” and was liaising with the local community.

At the same time, specific criminal investigations were under way into priority suspects on the far right, which the commissioner referred to as “the persistent perpetrators of the hate message”. However, “hundreds” of international protection applicants had been successfully housed in a wide variety of locations in the last week with no objections.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times