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‘I’m not going to resign’ – Garda commissioner defends response to Dublin riots

Drew Harris said that while the riot was ‘uncontrollable’, he denied that the city was ‘out of control’.

By Cillian Sherlock
Wednesday 29 November 2023 18:06 GMT
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (centre) arriving to appear before the justice committee at Leinster House following riots in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (centre) arriving to appear before the justice committee at Leinster House following riots in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)

The head of Ireland’s police force has defended the operational response to events at a crime scene that escalated into disorder around Dublin city’s main thoroughfare.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris faced hours of questioning from TDs and Senators on Wednesday and said there was no failure of policing in response to disorder in the city centre.

Amid calls from the opposition for him to step aside, he said he had no intention of resigning.

As he outlined a timeline of events from last Thursday on how events escalated, he said that while the riots in Dublin had been “uncontrollable”, he denied that the city was “out of control”.

The disorder in Dublin was preceded by a knife attack on Thursday afternoon in which three children and a woman were injured.

A five-year-old girl and her carer remain in critical conditions in hospital.

Hours after the attack, which took place outside a school on Parnell Square East in Dublin’s inner city, angry crowds gathered at the edge of the Garda cordon.

Scenes escalated after some attempted to push through the cordon with bins, Garda cars and other vehicles set alight and shops looted later that evening.

The damage done to public infrastructure is expected to cost tens of millions of euro.

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, which had already been raised as an issue over the summer.

The main opposition party Sinn Fein has called on Commissioner Harris and Justice Minister Helen McEntee to resign.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee on justice, Mr Harris said he has “no intention whatsoever” of resigning.

“I’m not going to resign, I care too much, actually, about this job.

“I care too much about the responsibilities that I have to protect the people of Ireland and to lead An Garda Siochana.

“I have a huge amount of work to do and part of that work is the response to this.”

He rejected the suggestion the city was “out of control” and also said there was “no failure” in the police handling of the “uncontrollable” riot.

“They did a good job in terms of protecting the scene and gathering sufficient resources to deal with the riot in front of them.”

Mr Harris said stronger incapacitant spray will now be provided to all gardai, 200 tasers will be provided to public-order units, a business case for two water cannons will be submitted and there will be an increase in the number engaged in public-order training.

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

Some of these individuals are undoubtedly a danger to society

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris

Mr Harris told the committee 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.

Responding to Ms McEntee’s request for the Policing Authority to give clarity on the use of force, the commissioner said it would be “welcome” but that the service already has its own decision-making model and proper tactics were deployed.

Setting out a timeline of the disorder for the committee, Mr Harris said police resources were immediately deployed to maintain the crime scene after the attack at 1.30pm.

“Right from the first minute I knew this was a serious incident,” he said, adding that he first became aware of the incident at 2.19pm.

He said he spoke on the phone with Ms McEntee was at 2.49pm, and met with her at the Department of Justice as the riots were ongoing.

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 people off the tracks.

“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.

He said by 7pm, approximately 500 people were involved in disorder.

He said 250 public-order gardai were at the scene, the “largest-ever” such deployment.

“While the intense violence was shocking and distressing, calm was being restored immediately as gardai deployed and was largely restored in the city centre by 10pm and full order was restored by 11.30pm.”

We’re not going to be able to arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem on our own

Commissioner Drew Harris

Mr Harris said Dublin city was “back open for business” on Friday, noting that other capital cities in Europe have seen normal society shut down “for days”.

“Having said that, it’s very clear we’re now facing a different form of disorder than we’ve experienced before and we in An Garda Siochana must evolve in terms of our tactics and equipment to address this.”

Asked about the general monitoring of far-right activity in Ireland, he said that the far right poses “a threat across Europe”.

He said that many involved “are fully convinced of conspiracy theories and the arguments that they have” and are “not open to rational discussion”.

“They have been radicalised in terms of their activity online and in their subsequent behaviours, and they do seem to be able to gather and garner support.”

He added: “We need to be careful about the core group and then those on the margins of it.”

He said that there had been a “full” investigation into the protest held outside the Dail in September and that the case file into protests at libraries in Co Cork had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Answering questions from TDs about WhatsApp messages being used to call on Garda members 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.

Mr Harris said the overall force is short of 1,000 personnel but he was “absolutely” satisfied that Dublin city centre would be adequately policed in the run-up to Christmas.

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