Dublin riots: Drew Harris tells committee Tasers to be given to Garda Public Order Unit

Garda commissioner faces grilling at Oireachtas committee over Dublin riots


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Main points

  • Harris: Gardaí to get stronger pepper spray, more personal safety gear
  • Garda operation in Dublin throughout Christmas period – commissioner
  • Hardcore far-right group at centre of Garda investigations into Dublin riots
  • Sinn Féin has called on Drew Harris and Helen McEntee to resign
  • Harris says 200 Tasers are to be provided to the Public Order Unit


Away from the hearings, the Seanad has been discussing last Thursday’s riots with some interesting views emerging.

People feel that the only response to those involved in rioting last week is “a good, honest, decent beating”, Fine Gael senator Seán Kyne said.

“The majority of people that I have spoken to from, around the country, who witnessed the scenes on our streets and on our televisions and our social media, they are fully in support of the gardaí and feel that the only response that people involved in this sort of criminality and rioting understand is a good, honest, decent beating and I will be blunt about it,” he said.

“You cannot probably say that, but I will be blunt, that’s what people want to see, that gardaí have the powers and know that they will be safe in using a baton to attack individuals who are involved in rioting and criminality.”


The Commissioner was asked if there would be a cliff edge after Christmas with the high numbers of guards of the streets falling back suddenly. tHe stressed there would be no cliff edge. “The plans that were drawn up are to make sure that we can manage high levels of visibility going forward. We spoke earlier about actually reprioritization of resources, and we just have to follow that through over the next number of weeks.”


Here is more of what Drew Harris had to say about recruitment. “We want to make sure we expand our recruitment efforts and we have to look to underrepresented groups... And that includes both women [and] other underrepresented groups in terms of ethnic minorities. That’s a particular issue for us.

“The number of recruits who have not finished their training during 2023. I wouldn’t have that number to hand but at the same time, it is small numbers. ...I’ve seen some commentators report huge numbers, but that’s not correct. You’re talking [about] two handfuls across the year I’d be surprised was any more than that.”


The hearing has now been adjourned. We’ll see if there is much by way of reaction outside the chamber.


We are in the final stages of the hearing with a set of rapid fire questions from committee members to the Garda Commissioner. One has focussed on recruitment. “We are in a competitive place around recruiting individuals... number of recruits who have not finished their training in 2023 is small numbers... two handfuls over the course of a year,” the Commissioner has said.


Conor Pope here, taking over from Jack Horgan Jones. The hearing has resumed during the break, a release came in from the Garda press office outlining much of what the Garda Commissioner has already said.

Here is some of it.

“As part of an on-going operational de-brief, the Garda Senior Leadership Team has decided on a range of measures to support Gardaí in policing serious public order incidents and conducting criminal investigations in order to keep people safe.

These measures are based on an assessment by the Garda Senior Leadership Team, in addition to feedback from Garda Managers, the four Garda Representative Associations and individual Gardaí.

The measures decided upon are:

- The provision of stronger incapacitant spray to all Gardaí – this stronger incapacitant spray is already provided to public order units

- Expansion of public order unit capability with the provision of an initial 200 Tasers for deployment to public order units subject to training (Tasers are already provided to all firearms specialist units – Emergency Response Unit and Regional Armed Response Units, as well as the Special Detective Unit)

- Submit a business case for the procurement of two water cannons

- Increase the numbers trained and engaged in public order training

- The provision of smaller round shields to public order units – they are already provided with long and medium shields

- Expand and enhance the public order fleet

- Run a separate proof of concept (POC) project involving the deployment of body-worn cameras in Dublin city centre. The cameras will be used in conjunction with a code of practice developed in line with the Digital Recording Bill. This relatively quick technical solution will make Body Worn Cameras available to city centre Gardaí in a shorter timeframe to the main solution (during Q1 2024)

- Accelerate the expansion of the dog unit, as provided for in Budget 2024

- Increase in Garda data scientists to support the analysis of evidential material

- Purchase of hand held video cameras for public order units

- Further expansion of public order tactics

An organisational de-brief is currently underway under the leadership of Assistant Commissioner Paul Cleary.

The Garda Senior Leadership Team is chaired by the Garda Commissioner, and includes the two Deputy Commissioners, Chief Administrative Officer, all Assistant Commissioners, all Executive Directors, the Chief Medical Officer, and Director of Communications.


Fianna Fáil’s Cathal Crowe focused on complaints about gardaí, saying you would be acquitted for murder quicker than you would have a complaint investigated against you as a garda.

Labour TD for Tipperary Alan Kelly asked about how many garda trainees will be in Templemore this calendar year, and Harris told him he did not have that exact information to hand. “That’s not acceptable,” said Kelly, asking him to the nearest 50 recruits how many had entered the Garda training college. Harris told him it was 700-750, with a further entry to the college due towards the end of this month.

Kelly said it is a basic requirement to know how many were entering the college. Harris read out the numbers going in at different stages across the year. People looked for calculators. Kelly complained that he had not had an answer.

Harris, who perhaps found a calculator, said 633 individuals had entered the college this year.

The participants broke for a vote in the Dáil. Harris said he was off to get a cup of tea.


Meanwhile, the social media company X, previously known as Twitter, did not engage with gardaí regarding “vile posts” on its platform following the stabbing incident and rioting in Dublin last week, the Minister for Justice has said, writes Sarah Burns.

Helen McEntee told the Dáil on Wednesday that “some” social media companies were “responsible” during the events last Thursday, while “others were not”.

“I spoke to a detective in Pearse Street on Saturday who was actively engaged with the social media companies throughout Thursday, who was actively engaged with TikTok, Meta, or Instagram and Facebook, and Twitter or X,” Ms McEntee said.

“She said very clearly that social media companies, in particular TikTok and Meta, they were responding, engaging with gardaí and taking down these vile posts as they came up. X were not. They didn’t engage. They did not fulfil their own community standards.”


The first round of questioning is now complete, with non-committee members asked to come in with their questions.

Senator Sharon Keogan is first up. She’s told the Garda will be analysing CCTV and gathering witness statements to identify the alleged activities of those engaged in violence and criminal damage. Harris said the evidence cannot be broken down into groups that carried out one type of offence or the other.

Senator Michael McDowell (a former tánaiste and minister for justice, who wrote about the Dublin riots in The Irish Times today) was next up. He noted that peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution, but that there had been a “huge increase” in the amount of disorder and breaches of the Public Order Act 1994. There was footage of protesters screaming in the face of gardaí that they were “scumbags”, and they were “effectively let away with” this behaviour.

Harris agreed that the Constitution discusses peaceful protest and that there is jurisprudence around the right of assembly. He’s now quoting Section 8 of that Public Order Act.

Some heavyweight quote trading follows here at the committee.

McDowell responded with another section of the Act, saying it gives the right to gardaí to tell people to disperse, and that it should be used more often, including during such episodes as the Leinster House protest in September.

We’ll have the whole Act read out by the end of the afternoon if they continue at this rate.

McDowell asked whether it would not be useful for the Garda reserve to increase the number of patrols, pointing out there are only 100 Garda reservists in the DMR region. Harris said there will be a recruitment campaign launched for the reserves in the first quarter of next year. Interestingly, Harris said whether protesters were masked or not is “almost irrelevant”, as people will be dressed identifiably in some way.

The committee took a five-minute break on Harris’s request.


Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin TD for Fingal, just asked for how long control had been lost last Thursday evening in Dublin city. Harris responded that he found it hard to go down this road regarding analysis of what happened, arguing that members of the Garda had been on the scene at all times, but that what had taken place “was a riot” – and that a riot is “uncontrollable”.

O’Reilly returned to earlier questioning, asking at what point contact had been made with the Minister for Justice. Harris said it is not his first responsibility to contact the Minister for Justice, and he that he did not quite understand the question.

He said he could not provide a precise time but that he met Helen McEntee in the evening, about 8pm, at the Department of Justice. He said he believed he had been in touch with her before that, and also with the secretary general of the Department of Justice. O’Reilly then asked for a detailed note on these contacts.


Green Party TD for Dublin South Central Patrick Costello asked whether the right to protest includes setting up a checkpoint and demanding ID.

No, said Harris.

Does it include arson?


Does it include blocking a premises?

A proportionate response by gardaí would be used respecting the rights of those who live in a particular area, said Harris.

Costello says we have seen all these things and more in recent days and weeks, listing off examples of each from around the country.

“You talk in your opening statement about how spontaneous this was, but I cannot agree with that in any way,” Costello said, adding the riot was the “inevitable consequence” of a “distinct pattern of increasingly violent and threatening protests”.

Harris responded that some of the incidents listed by Costello are “almost will-o’-the-wisp in terms of the reporting” but that where incidents are reported they are investigated. Costello countered that the evidence was out there, being shared on social media channels by far right groups. Harris said the Garda was not watching every social media channel, and that if people came across evidence it should be shared with the Garda.

Harris added that the Garda “need to be informed further of what these [social media] networks are”, saying it is “impossible” to suggest that the Garda should be across every network.


Fine Gael’s TD for Dublin South West Colm Brophy was next up. He asked: “What’s going to change” if a similar type of incident occurs tomorrow, or next week – would the operational or policing decisions around it be different?

Harris said the core of how the Garda force responds is through a human rights approach informed by Garda ethics. He said the acquisition of water cannon now gives gardaí more in terms of tactics, but that it wouldn’t have been possible for gardaí initially present on Thursday to take control of Dublin city streets of that size and then also O’Connell Street – it would have been “an impossible and forlorn” task.

Brophy told him what happened was an aggressive situation – “it wasn’t a protest”, he says. “Will there be a situation where, if there are violent emerging protests, they are dealt with in a much quicker way?” he asked.

Harris said there would be, thanks to additional tactics in the shape of water cannon, stronger pepper spray and in time, “enhanced vehicles”, tasers and “round shield” tactics.

He asked Harris how he felt about calls for him to resign.

“I’m not going to resign,” he said, adding he cared too much about the job. “I have no intention whatsoever of resigning.”


Tasers to be provided

Earlier, In his opening statement, Drew Harris said Tasers would be provided to the Public Order Unit.

He said the Garda senior leadership team decided yesterday afternoon on:

  • The expansion of the Public Order Unit with the provision of 200 Tasers for deployment, subject to successful training
  • To submit a business case for the procurement of two water cannons.


Senator Lynn Ruane was up next. She said there was a “distraction” in looking at the response from the Garda, and offered an analysis that much had led up to this point, where politicians were pointing fingers rather than “looking inwards and wondering what led us here today”. She asked what Harris saw as the core driver of violence in communities where it is more prevalent.

Harris responded by saying he first spoke about the rise of the far right in 2019 at a policing authority meeting. “This starts from a place of prejudice and that... becomes discrimination and hatred.

“I’m sure that sounds blunt, but that’s what we see when we’re dealing with these individuals,” he said, adding they are “fully convinced” of conspiracy theories and are not open to a “rational discussion” around what is going on. He said individuals were radicalised online and able to gather and garner support through the internet.

Ruane asked about disenfranchised communities being exploited by these groups, asking whether the use of language such as “thugs” and “scumbags” makes it more difficult to speak with groups of young men who can be “dragged from the fringes into these spaces” without being “part of the official far right”.

Harris told her that those words are “not expressions you hear from us because it would indicate a lack of objectivity on our part”.

Ruane quickly points out his supplied statement to the committee uses the word “thugs”, throwing Harris for a moment.


Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher was next up. Harris returned to his point that this was a spontaneous incident. “The speed with which social media messaging spread, the misinformation that spread, the repeated lies that were put out there ... that all added then to the tension of the incident.”

It would have been an “infinitely easier” operation if they knew what was coming, but Harris said there was no prior indication it was coming. “There’s no failure in any part on behalf” of those commanding, he said.

Harris says he is “absolutely” satisfied Dublin will be adequately policed between now and Christmas. Gallagher asked if, by extension, other areas would be left short because the force was being beefed up in Dublin. Harris says he is conscious that An Garda Síochána is a national service and there are demands around road safety and other issues around Christmas throughout the country.

He said as an organisation, however, they have to prioritise what they use their resources for – saying the priority is visibility. So not directly answering whether policing in Dublin will be a drain on resources elsewhere.

Harris told the committee he can “easily see” why there’s a “chill factor” attributed to investigations of gardaí who have used force and had a complaint made about it.


Fine Gael TD for Fingal Alan Farrell was the third questioner. He asked about a report that Harris has given to McEntee, asking for details of the report to be given to the committee.

Farrell focused on timing and the accusations of a lack of a timely response, asking how many officers were on duty in a two-hour window prior to the first “fire” attack, and whether those present at the protest/riot were corralled – was O’Connell Street, Henry Street or Talbot Street ‘book-ended’, he asked.

Harris said at around 4pm, the Garda public-order numbers were supplemented with a callout to members in the DMR and eastern region. On ‘bookending’, he said: “It has to be said we did not have sufficient numbers to successfully conduct that kind of operation until later in the evening” – estimating around 7.30pm. He points to the abundance of small streets and alleyways in Dublin city centre.

“There was in effect a pursuit of them from that time on, and that is how they were broken up as a riotous mob.”

Asked if there has been a chilling effect on his members regarding the use of force, he said it is a “very complex area” with competing rights to be balanced.

“Clarity in respect of that would be welcome,” he said, but “we have our own decision-making model, which is informed by our own code of ethics”.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like he’s suggesting a review by the Policing Authority, which has been requested by McEntee, may not get to the heart of the matter by itself.

Farrell asked if there are enough officers deployed in the northeast inner city. “The organisation is short of personnel,” he says, “we’re short of 1,000 as we sit ‚” he says, relative to Government plans. “By definition, if we’re growing, it’s because we’re too small at this period in time.”

Harris says his report to the Minister has a more detailed timeline of events and details of a number of specific instances, such as the “retrieval of staff” from various business premises, and an outline of the investigation into the disorder, work with the local business community, damage to vehicles, injuries to members and arrests so far.


Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman, Pa Daly, was next up.

Harris agreed with him that arrests had been rising in recent months. Harris conceded he was aware that hateful messages were spreading online more frequently but said he wasn’t aware of comments from the Ceann Comhairle after the Leinster House protest that a tougher policing stance could have been taken.

Defending the decision-making in recent weeks, Harris pointed to decisions to put more public-order units on the streets from September 20th, further intelligence-gathering online, and the issuing of advice that all Cabinet Ministers should get Garda drivers.

Harris said this precise incident could not have been foreseen, but that public-order training would include scenario training and exercises.

Daly asked at what time Harris realised such a serious incident was under way. “I’m not sure I really understand the question against the context of a stabbing incident on children ... right from the first minute I knew this was a serious incident,” Harris says. The Commissioner said he returned from a policing authority meeting in Waterford – but that DMR [Dublin Metropolitan Region] Garda was already responding.

He says there was a “huge effort” by rioters to impose anarchy. “We had a riot, and a riot is in effect an uncontrollable event which is brought to a place of peace.”

He told the committee he cannot remember precisely the first time he spoke with the Minister but that he was in contact with the Department of Justice throughout the day. He refused to give an estimate of what time he first spoke to Ms McEntee.


Chairman James Lawless was first questioner – he quoted from Peter Charleton’s disclosures tribunal report, to the effect that Irish police do not walk the streets, asking why there aren’t enough gardaí on the streets.

Harris responded by speaking about Operation Citizen, and additional funding granted by Government following high-profile street crime. He says there has been an “uplift” in the number of gardaí patrolling the north and south centre of Dublin.

He says in the coming period to Christmas, there will be an increased presence but the issue for him is around “prioritisation”.

“No matter how many arrests we are making, it is not having the same impact as the issues around visibility.

“We’re not going to be able to arrest and prosecute our way out of this on our own,” he says, adding this requires a response beyond the gardaí and needs a reprioritisation of resources.

Lawless also asked about Prime Time last night, on which the Garda Representative Association claims members of the force effectively self-organised and came into town in the absence of a command.

Harris says WhatsApp is used to circulate messages around the public-order unit and to circulate messages when people are being sought. He says what he saw was part of a management request for more people to come in. He says there’s an element of people responding themselves knowing they would be called upon, and also people having been called upon, making themselves available.

He says last night’s characterisation was a “distortion”.


Committee chairman James Lawless is opening proceedings, outlining his concern that this is seen as a spontaneous incident. He says. by his count, this is the fourth such event in recent months. “That does concern me greatly,” he says, asking to what extent this “could or should be anticipated”.

Lawless says there has been a question as to whether members of the Garda were presenting for duty after being contacted on WhatsApp – he wants to know what degree of “command and control” was in operation on the night.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is now giving his opening statement ..


Turning to the Garda response, Harris’s statement to the committee says:

On Saturday, I meet the four Garda Associations to seek their immediate feedback, which was very valuable, and there will be further engagement with the Associations in the coming weeks.

We will also work with the Policing Authority on its review.

We are already making changes. By Friday evening we had two water cannons ready to deploy.

We will be adding to the already 1,000 trained public order Gardaí. This is in addition to the 100 Gardaí we added to the public order unit in the Dublin Metropolitan Region during this year.

We will be providing Gardaí with even stronger incapacitant spray and more personal safety equipment.

In conjunction with the Minister for Justice, we have sought amendments to legislation to allow us to access audio from CCTV, which will enable us to advance incitement crimes, and to utilise facial and object identification technology for certain crimes including serious public order incidents, which will speed up the current manual review of CCTV material.

From mid-next year we will also start to deploy body cams.

In order to provide public reassurance, since Thursday evening last we have four public order units deployed in Dublin city centre, along with high visibility patrolling supported by specialist units such as the dog unit, mounted unit, and air support.

This policing operation will continue throughout the Christmas period.


And here is a timeline of events, according to the Garda Commissioner’s statement (times bolded up for clarity):

At approximately 1.30pm, the knife attack on the teacher and three children occurred. Garda resources were immediately deployed to the scene, to maintain the cordon so the crime scene was preserved to enable the gathering of evidence for a prosecution, begin the investigation, determine the motive and liaise with distraught parents, teachers and the local community.

In addition, a 25-strong Garda National Public Order Unit was at the scene at 2pm.

At approximately 3.35pm, there was a small, spontaneous anti-immigration protest nearby at the Garden of Remembrance, which passed off peacefully.

At 4.30pm, a group blocked the Luas at Parnell Street/O’Connell Street junction. At 5.40pm a large number of people – around 200 – charged towards Gardaí and attacked them physically and verbally. Garda vehicles were also damaged.

In an extremely serious and unprecedented situation, some of the group sought to break through the crime scene cordon, but they were repelled by Gardaí.

Around 6.30pm, fire attacks started on public transport and Garda vehicles, criminal damage and looting began, and Gardaí had fireworks thrown and fired at them.

At this time, there was already a significant Garda presence in the city and by 7pm further Gardaí arrived. The numbers involved in rioting had grown considerably in this short time.

By approximately 8pm, the number of trained and equipped public order Gardaí had grown to 250. This was our largest ever public order deployment. The total number of Gardaí in the city centre was over 400 with support from the dog unit, the mounted unit, and air support unit.

While the intense violence was shocking and distressing, calm was largely restored to the city centre by 10pm and full order was restored by 11.30pm.


Here are some extracts from Drew Harris’s statement that he will make to the committee:

“Firstly, our thoughts remain with the teacher and the three children and their families who were victims of the terrible knife attack.

“Our investigation is progressing and we are not looking for anyone else in relation to this crime. I want to thank the public for their assistance and support with this investigation.

“It is terrible that a minority then corrupted the suffering of others in an attempt to further their narrow-minded, and vicious agenda. They should be truly ashamed for this and the destruction they caused.

“An Garda Síochána is determined to bring them to justice.

We have arrested 38 people and our investigation is assisted by significant CCTV and reports from the public, this will enable us to prepare investigation files for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In addition, we have established another strand of investigation under the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation into those who we suspect are inciting serious public order incidents and hatred via social media.

There has, understandably, been much commentary on the Garda response to the serious public order incident.

At the outset, I want to once again pay tribute to the Gardaí who so bravely and professionally put themselves in harms way to protect the people of Dublin.

I also want to set out a timeline of events so that Committee Members are aware of the significant work undertaken in a relatively short period of time to restore order to the city.


Garda Commissioner Drew Harris faces questions from TDs and Senators at the Oireachtas Committee on Justice in the wake of last week’s rioting in Dublin.

Mr Harris and his senior management team will update public representatives on the investigations into the riots to date and future policing plans.

Gardaí are to get stronger pepper spray and more personal safety gear as the force “evolves” its tactics after last Thursday’s Dublin riots, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will tell the committee today.

In an opening statement to be delivered to the committee, he will say that following the largest deployment of public-order gardaí, order was restored within hours and argue that in similar situations in other capital cities “normal society [has been] shut down for days”.

Sinn Féin has called for Mr Harris, along with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, to resign. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she has “zero confidence” in Ms McEntee and Mr Harris.

However, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said he had “full confidence” in both, insisting Ms McEntee had been “leading” and “extremely active” on the issues of law and order and criminal justice during her term in office.