Simon Harris condemns ‘reprehensible behaviour’ at Co Wicklow asylum protest

Gardai came under attack in Newtownmountkennedy as protests descended into violence on Thursday.

Simon Harris
Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Irish premier Simon Harris has condemned significant disorder at a site earmarked for asylum seekers in Co Wicklow as “utterly unacceptable and reprehensible behaviour”.

Gardai came under attack in Newtownmountkennedy as protests on Thursday descended into violence later in the evening.

The Taoiseach said protest is legitimate, but should not be done “with an axe”.

Garda in Newtownmountkennedy after protests near Trudder House
Garda in Newtownmountkennedy after protests near Trudder House (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Harris thanked gardai on the front line and added that “thuggery” will not change Government plans.

The trouble flared after workers contracted to carry out construction work on the former HSE facility attempted to enter the site, identified by the Department of Integration as a potential accommodation option for international protection applicants.

Six arrests were made during what the Garda described as “serious public disorder”.

Four people appeared in court on Friday charged with public order offences.

Another man charged in relation to the disorder has been released to appear before court at a later date, and a male juvenile was freed without charge and will be referred to the Youth Diversion Project.

The Garda Public Order Unit was deployed during the trouble. A Garda statement said gardai “used force to defend themselves”, including the use of pepper spray, as part of an “escalated response” to the violence.

Three Garda patrol cars were damaged.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris visited the location on Friday morning, and rejected the suggestion that gardai may have been heavy-handed.

“There were very unacceptable scenes seen here in terms of a protest, which then turned to violence,” he said.

“We’ve seen an attempt to burn a small outhouse-type premises, but also then, disgracefully, attacks on members of An Garda Siochana who were attacked with stones and indeed vehicles have been damaged.”

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Harris said one patrol vehicle was damaged with a full-sized axe, with the rear and front windows smashed.

He said there were also attempts to injure Garda members.

“Rubble and stones were thrown from fields and members had to deploy in protective public order equipment and shields to make sure that they could protect themselves from the assaults upon them,” he added.

Speaking to media in Co Wicklow, Mr Harris condemned the scenes.

“You don’t engage in protest that involves fire, that involves burning things, that involves thuggery and that involves assaulting members of An Garda Siochana or their vehicles,” he said.

“That is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible behaviour in this country.

“Gardai will enforce the laws of the land in this country without fear or favour. There are laws in this land. The laws apply to all, and the laws will be enforced… and I want to thank the gardai on the front line last night in relation to that.

“Protest is legitimate in a democracy, I get that, but you don’t protest with an axe. What happened last night in this county of Wicklow will not be tolerated and will not be tolerated anywhere in this country, as the laws of the land are clear and the laws of the land will be enforced by An Garda Siochana.

Asked about claims that gardai had been heavy-handed, Mr Harris said: “There are mechanisms available to anybody in relation to Garda oversight and I fully support the gardai.

“Gardai do an extremely difficult job. The Garda put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe and to uphold the laws of this land.”

A sign in Newtownmountkennedy
A sign in Newtownmountkennedy (Brian Lawless/PA)

In terms of plans for the site, Mr Harris added: “We’ve a very difficult humanitarian situation in this country and we’re working on a very regular basis to provide shelter and indeed to ensure that we don’t have a situation where we see tented almost villages like we’ve seen around Mount Street. That’s not a good place to be in.

“The Department of Integration will continue to work with local authorities, with state-owned land to find solutions, and certainly thuggery will not play any role whatsoever in deviating from any such plans.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee also defended the approach taken by gardai.

“I don’t think anybody looking at pictures from last night would disagree with the approach that the gardai have taken,” she told Newstalk.