Garda Commissioner says no failure in response to ‘unprecedented’ Dublin riots

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris arrives at Leinster House to appear before the justice committee (Niall Carson/PA)
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris arrives at Leinster House to appear before the justice committee (Niall Carson/PA) Garda Commissioner Drew Harris arrives at Leinster House to appear before the justice committee (Niall Carson/PA)

The head of Ireland’s police force has said that there was no failure in the policing response to riots in Dublin city, which saw millions of euros of damage caused to public infrastructure and shops looted.

The scenes last Thursday, which made headlines across the world, have put pressure on the Government over its ability to maintain safety in the Irish capital.

The main opposition party, Sinn Fein, has called on the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice Minister Helen McEntee to resign, a move that has been criticised by the Government.

Mr Harris said the riots in Dublin followed an attempt by a minority to “corrupt the suffering” of the victims of a stabbing attack, in an attempt to further “their own narrow-minded and indeed vicious agenda”.

Mr Harris told a parliamentary committee on justice that 38 people had been arrested and “significant amounts of CCTV” footage had been gathered.

“Some of these individuals are undoubtedly a danger to society,” he told TDs and senators.

He said a separate investigation has been launched for those suspected of inciting serious public-order incidents or hatred via social media.

Setting out a timeline for the justice committee, Mr Harris said police resources were immediately deployed to maintain the crime scene following a knife attack in which children were seriously injured, at 1.30pm.

“Right from the first minute I knew this was a serious incident,” he said, adding that he left a meeting in Co Waterford after he heard the news.

The commissioner said a public-order unit was on the site at Parnell Square East at 2.15pm.

He said: “At approximately 3.45pm there was a small spontaneous anti-immigration protest nearby the Garden of Remembrance and this passed by without incident.

“At 4.30pm a group blocked the Luas [tram] at Parnell Street-O’Connell Street junction,” he said, adding that they did not have the garda members to move the people off the tracks.

Dublin city centre incident
Dublin city centre incident A bus on fire on O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre (Brian Lawless/PA)

“This group grew and (by) 5.40pm a larger group of people, around 200, charged towards gardai and attacked them physically and verbally.

“In an extremely serious and unprecedented situation, some of this group sought to break through our outer cordon into the actual crime scene cordon, but they were repelled.”

The Garda Commissioner said that by 6.30pm, further attacks on garda and public transport vehicles, as well as looting, began.

Answering questions from TDs about WhatsApp messages being used to respond to the disorder, Mr Harris said that WhatsApp is used to circulate “legitimate” messages when Garda members are being sought for overtime.

He said that people were saying to each other “I’m going in, you’re about to get a call” or seeing what was happening on social media and going to their Garda station.

“There’s an element of people responding themselves knowing that they would be called upon,” he said.

He said there will have to be “a refocus towards visibility” to help people feel safer after the riots.

“What is clear is we’re not going to be able to arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem on our own. That is going to require a redirection of resources,” he said.