Gardaí visit far-right activists to determine if they pose threat to Ministers

At least six individuals visited by Special Detective Unit members in recent months

Garda detectives have been visiting far-right activists in recent months to determine if they pose a threat to Government Ministers and public officials.

The move forms part of a review of Government security following several incidents of concern involving politicians and senior civil servants over the past year and a half.

In the past six months, at least six far-right activists have been visited by gardaí from the Special Detective Unit (SDU) which is responsible for the protection of politicians.

Sources say these visits were ordered based on the activities of the individuals, including their online rhetoric and their participation in protests during which threats were made against politicians.

The visits generally take the form of “relatively informal conversations” during which detectives attempt to establish if the individual may pose a threat to public officials, one security source said.

However, in at least one instance, an individual was told they may face charges relating to their online postings. This person, a recently retired member of the Defence Forces, was approached by gardaí who wanted to speak to him about a video he made addressing the Taoiseach which ends with the sound of a gunshot.

The former soldier refused to be interviewed by gardaí. In a recent post, he described how detectives told him a file is being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to determine if he may have committed an offence under the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020.

The former solider maintains the gunshot sound did not signify anything sinister.

Instances which have raised concern among gardaí responsible for the protection of officials have included protests outside the home of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

An increase in online threats directed against politicians and health officials relating to the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has also raised concerns.

A security source said the visits and conversations have not uncovered any specific threats to officials but they will continue “as they are required”.

Last October, Taoiseach Micheál Martin called for a review of politicians' security following the murder of UK Conservative MP David Amess.

The Taoiseach said face-to- face engagement between politicians and the public is “a very positive feature of Irish politics” which has to be protected.

Spending on security measures at the homes of Ministers and other State officials more than tripled in 2021, the Public Accounts Committee heard last month.

Most of the money was spent on equipment such as CCTV systems and security fences.

At the start of this year it was decided Cabinet Ministers would have greater security in the form of a return of Garda drivers and State cars.

Garda security briefings were also organised for TDs and senators. As part of this, they offered a safety review of their offices by a local garda Crime Prevention Officer.

There has been consultation between Oireachtas officials and social media companies aimed at preventing the personal addresses of politicians being shared online.

Recently, approval was given for a significant expansion in the manpower available to the SDU, which will be used in part to increase protection for politicians.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times