Right-wing extremism ‘arriving on our shores’, says Harris

Unease in Garda circles at right-wing social media activity and arson attacks

The Garda was remaining vigilant as far-right activity began to emerge as a threat in the Republic, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

"It's very clear from my interactions with European colleagues, and then also what I see myself, that there is a rise in right-wing extremism right across Europe, " Mr Harris said after a public meeting of the Policing Authority in Dublin on Wednesday.

"The difficulty with it is that it's spread through the web and spread through social media. And we just need to be very careful, in terms of some of the things that have happened to date here in Ireland. We now see it starting to arrive on our shores," he said.

“We’re very acutely aware of it and we’re very acutely aware there’s a policing response, and indeed an intelligence response, that we need to have to thwart that particular threat.


“And it was something I just felt it was important to mention because it is a growing concern right across law enforcement and intelligence agencies across Europe. And we also have to be mindful of that.”

Although he did not mention any of the events he was concerned about, there is unease in Garda circles at proliferation of right-wing social media activity and arson attacks on planned direct provision centres for foreign nationals applying for international protection.

Detectives also believe some local groups protesting against the opening of new direct provision centres in their communities had been infiltrated by elements intent on inflaming public attitudes to migrants.

Lisa Smith inquiry

Separately, asked about the case of Lisa Smith, the former Defence Forces member now in Turkey having been an Islamic State supporter in Syria, the commissioner said he could make no substantive comment.

However, he agreed when it was put to him that Ms Smith was under investigation by the Garda and her return to Ireland would involve the force after she arrived home.

It also emerged at the meeting in Dublin Castle on Wednesday that far fewer gardaí than previously predicted would be disciplined for serious problems that had been identified with the force’s youth diversion programme.

Thousands of juveniles who refused to admit their guilt were refused entry into the diversion system and were not then sent back to the criminal justice system proper, as they should have been.

Some of them then became involved in more crime, and their first victims never got justice. A small number of the juveniles had also died.

It was suggested in reports of a meeting of the Policing Authority earlier this year that as many as 3,500 gardaí might be disciplined over the debacle.

However, it was confirmed at the authority meeting 644 Garda members had been sanctioned with a warning or advice. Another 55 were fined up to two weeks’ pay and decisions were awaited in another 700 cases.

‘Significant’ sanctions

When it was put to Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily that the number of gardaí disciplined was well below the 3,500 mooted, she said even a minor sanction was significant.

“This was never about heads [rolling], it was about making sure the scheme delivered for the young people it was supposed to; young people who were victims and suspects,” she said.

While there was adverse comment from within the Garda when the commissioner publicly apologised earlier this year, he stood over his actions.

He said opportunities to intervene in the lives of young people were lost and those teenagers then went on to re-offend and entered the criminal justice system.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times