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Anti-lockdown protests by ‘extremist groups’ have ‘no organiser’, says Garda Commissioner Drew Harris

Regrettably, these groups have shown a propensity to violence," he added.


Garda on Grafton Street after an Anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre. Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins Photos

Garda on Grafton Street after an Anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre. Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins Photos

Garda on Grafton Street after an Anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre. Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins Photos

Anti-lockdown protests by “extremist groups” have “no organiser”, according to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

Eleven people were arrested for public-order offences last night after gardaí said they were "forced to intervene" during a demonstration on Dublin’s Grafton Street.

Speaking this morning, the Commissioner said that while protests are “legitimate activity”, these protests are “set against the restrictions on Covid-19”.

“Protest is a legitimate activity. The difficulty we have with these particular protests is one set against the restrictions on Covid-19 which place a restriction now out outdoor gatherings,” he said.

“Secondly, with these protests, there is no organiser. What we see is a cohort, a range of protests, an intelligence which tells us what their intentions are, their intentions appear to disrupt the port, to disrupt the activity of the government, to disrupt the government departments.”

He said that this cannot be “tolerated” and that these groups have shown a “propensity to violence”.

“And that can't be tolerated so we've no-one to negotiate with and their actual protest outcomes are not lawful protest purposes for their activity.

“Regrettably, these groups have shown a propensity to violence. We’ve seen in recent times that there has been violence associated with these protests.”

Commissioner Harris said that the organisers of the protest are currently “under focus”.

“I hope then those who organise these protests realise then that they’re under focus, we have engaged an active investigation, the description of what an organiser is has been expanded and we’re mounting an investigation to identify those individuals and then report them to the Director of Public Prosecutions as well.

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“We’re following through on all we might do in terms of enforcement on the day, but then follow through in terms of investigation afterwards,” he added.

He added that there was “no heavy handedness” on the part of the Gardaí at the demonstration at Grafton Street last night.

“We were using public order legislation to prevent that actually what would have been a very frightening stampede up Grafton Street and that's a tight enough pedestrian street and that cant be allowed to happen there.

“There was no heavy handedness on our part, our response was proportionate to what we believe were public order threats that were created by the protest,” he said.

While he did not specify which groups were involved in the anti-lockdown protests which have taken place recently, he said that some of them follow the Great Replacement Theory, a far-right theory which claims that white Europeans are being replaced by individuals from non European or non white countries.

“They are a mix of groups with extremist views and I have difficulty telling them apart because they all seem to have very much the same views, they do vary in some areas.

“But you do see among some of those groups they follow the Great Replacement Theory which is a far right theory which is very popular on the internet and within closed groups on the internet,” said the Commissioner.

He said that these demonstrations are organised through an "initial call" on "open source media".

“What we find concerning with these groups is, you can see an initial call on open source media and quickly then they go to cohort means of communicate with each other.

“That tells us right from the start that there is a problem here and that we should be concerned about the protest activity that is going to follow.”

Commissioner Harris was speaking as the force has mobilised to ensure nationwide compliance with Level 5 restrictions, which began on Wednesday night.

He said that fines will “deter” people’s behaviours and are at the “very extreme end”.

“They are only at the very extreme end of the behaviour then that we wish to intervene with. Most of what we do is through in actually engaging with people, educating and encouraging. That is by far the vast, vast majority of our activity.

“The actual deterrent of enforcement will alter people’s behaviours away from behaviours which are spreading Covid-19,” he said.

The Commissioner said that as domestic violence has seen an increase of 18pc this year, it remains to be a “real focus” for An Garda Síochána.

“We’ve learned the lessons in respect of domestic abuse. We had a very proactive operation the last time in April and May and that has carried on throughout the year.

“We ourselves have seen an increase in domestic abuse this year of some 18pc, so obviously that’s a real focus for ourselves.”

He said that the National Protective Service Unit and Divisional Protective Service Units are in place and will remain in place “specifically” for domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual assault.

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