Taoiseach vows to modernise laws on incitement to hatred to include social media

Leo Varadkar has said the violent events in Dublin on Thursday brought ‘shame to our society’

The Government will introduce new laws to more effectively tackle the use of incitement to hatred on social media platforms, such as were used to provoke violence and rioting in Dublin city centre on Thursday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar has said the Coalition would pass new laws in the coming week to enable the An Garda Síochána to make better use of CCTV evidence collected yesterday when identifying criminal acts and suspects.

The Taoiseach gave his first comprehensive response to both the stabbing of three young children and a woman in Parnell Square and the ensuing violence that erupted around the O’Connell Street, Parnell Street and Henry Street areas of the north-inner city.

“Each attack brought shame to our society and disgrace to those involved, and incredible pain to those caught up in the violence,” he said.


Turning to the anti-immigrant faction who encouraged the street violence and subsequent rioting and looting last night, he said: “Being Irish means more than saluting the tricolour, beating your chest and pointing to where you were born.”

In a press conference at Dublin Castle on Friday morning, Mr Varadkar also expressed full confidence in Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. He defended the preparation for the event and how the gardaí responded to the violence as it escalated.

He said what had happened was an “exceptional event” and that gardaí from all over the country had come back on duty and rushed to give support to their colleagues.

He said that roughly 500 people were involved in the violence. He said within the space of an hour-and-a-half there were 400 gardaí on the streets with riot gear and equipment.

“They responded extremely quickly and were able to contain it to small parts of the north inner city and were able to bring it under control before midnight.”

He also placed emphasis on the need to strengthen legislation to deal with the growing threat of far-right actors encouraging confrontation on social media.

“It’s now very obvious to anyone who would have doubted it that our incitement to hatred legislation is not up to date for the social media age,” said Mr Varadkar.

The Taoiseach also commended the people who came to the aid of the children during the attack. He said the care assistant had used her body to shield children from the attacker. He added the person who carried out the attack was “intent on murder”. It was also disclosed that gardaí have gained access to the attacker’s computer, his phones and his home.

Authorities were now operating on the understanding there could be further protests and incidents this weekend, and a recurrence of these events, Mr Varadkar said.

He accepted that any incitement to hatred legislation could not be applied retrospectively and could not be used in respect to the events of Thursday night.

The Taoiseach was asked about migration and the growing antipathy from some quarters about immigrants. “Migration is a difficult topic to talk about in politics,” he said. “In the round, migration has been a good thing for Ireland. We are a country of migrants.

“In hospitals, I see how diverse the workforce is there. Our hospitals would not work without migrants. There would be nobody to look after the sick or look after the old.”

He has said that any Government must have the power to control the numbers entering the country. “The country I have grown up in is a republic and in a republic, you judge people by their character and their actions and their deeds and not by the colour of their skin, or their background, or their gender,” he said.

Asked if Dublin was an unsafe city, he said he did not accept that. He described what happened on Thursday night as an “exceptional event”.

He said the Government had to ensure it would not happen again and that there would be a very strong Garda presence on the street in the coming days and weeks to make people feel safe.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times