Country fortunate spate of arson attacks has not led to loss of life, says Coxon

There have been more than 20 fires at properties associated, sometimes incorrectly, with accommodating asylum seekers in 2023 and 2024.

A blue house with fire damage after an arson attack
The scene of a suspected arson attack at a vacant house in Co Kildare, which was wrongly rumoured to be planned accommodation for asylum seekers. The building, according to gardai, was the subject of a "significant volume" of misinformation, disinformation and rumour in relation to its use or intended purpose. The seven-bedroom detached house in Leixlip was linked to housing for asylum seekers. Picture date: Wednesday February 7, 2024. (Niall Carson/PA)

It is fortunate there has been no loss of life caused by a spate of arson attacks on buildings earmarked or rumoured to be used for housing asylum seekers, a senior Garda officer has said.

During an appearance before the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Deputy Garda Commissioner Shawna Coxon said that a number of properties had been targeted due to unfounded rumours that they were International Protection Accommodation Services (Ipas) centres.

The committee is investigating a number of recent arson attacks. There have been more than 20 fires at properties associated, sometimes incorrectly, with accommodating asylum seekers in 2023 and 2024.

Ms Coxon told the members that gardai take every arson or attempted arson seriously.

Garda Deputy Commissioner Shawna Coxon
Garda Deputy Commissioner Shawna Coxon (Brian Lawless/PA)

She said: “This being the case with the arson attacks on International Protection Accommodation Services centres or property rumoured to become Ipas centres or property housing refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

“In each incident a senior investigation officer is appointed, an investigation team of detectives is formed and an incident room created, technical examinations are undertaken and evidence gathered.

“As would be standard practice when similar crimes occur in different parts of the country, there is national, regional and local co-ordination between investigative teams.

“At a national level the Special Detective Unit (SDU) which is responsible for the investigation of threats to national security is examining all of these incidents along with national intelligence to determine if there is any commonality in terms of modus operandi and/or individuals.

“At the moment there is nothing to suggest there is an over-arching conspiracy involved in these attacks, though we will continue to keep an open mind on this based on the evidence.”

Ms Coxon said arson attacks are difficult to investigate as evidence can often “literally, be burnt to cinders”.

She said a total of 11 people have been arrested since May last year in connection with arson attacks or criminal damage of Ipas centres, or suspected Ipas locations.

She added: “Criminal investigations are also ongoing into a large number of different potential criminal incidents, including activities at public gatherings, potential harassment at public facilities, including libraries and online incitement.

“We have also seen a significant amount of mis- and disinformation circulating in relation to properties that are rumoured to become Ipas centres.

“In most cases those rumours turn out not to be true. Several properties have been targeted that weren’t planned to be Ipas centres at all.

“We informed local protesters and communities of this but it did not persuade some people from continuing their protest.

“This meant that garda resources that could have been deployed in preventing and tackling local crime were diverted to patrolling around these locations.

“Even more concerning are the incidents of mis- and disinformation that have directly caused safety concerns for local people.

“For instance, a leaflet circulated in a local area by a so-called community group that had a photo of a house it claimed was going to become an Ipas centre.

“This property was actually a private residence with a family living in it. We liaised with the family and provided them with security advice.”

Serious public disorder flared in Dublin city centre in November following a stabbing attack near a school
Serious public disorder flared in Dublin city centre in November following a stabbing attack near a school

The senior officer also provided the committee with an update into the policing operation which followed serious public disorder in Dublin city centre on November 23. The violence flared following a stabbing attack near a school.

She said: “To date we have arrested 37 individuals for offences such as arson, violent disorder and thefts.

“We are currently reviewing over 20,000 hours of footage from 140 different CCTV feeds and we expect to make further arrests.

“Our investigation into those who allegedly incited such shocking and disgraceful criminal action via social media also continues.”

Ms Coxon said: “This country has been fortunate so far that it has not suffered a death or deaths as a result of these arson attacks.

“We remain determined to bring the perpetrators of these highly dangerous criminal acts to justice.”