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Gardaí ‘adjust’ protest policing following far-right demonstration at Dáil

Gardaí have adapted their approach to policing protests following a intimidatory far-right protest outside Leinster House, according to Commissioner Drew Harris.

However he advised against implementing a “sterile zone” around the Dáil for protests and urged caution in responding to disruptive protests.

This “adapted policing operation” will be rolled out on Budget day, set for October 10th, when gardaí expect more protests, he told a meeting of the Policing Authority.

Thirteen people were arrested during protests which saw politicians and staff being threatened, jostled and harassed. Most of these arrested were detained as they attempted to block staff from leaving the building.

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Gardaí are currently examining CCTV and social media footage of the protest, which featured a mock gallows, to identify other offenders.

Mr Harris emphasised the need to facilitate peaceful protests but said demonstrations such as the one seen last week are becoming a growing phenomenon in Europe and in Ireland.

Gardaí did not anticipate the number of people who attended the protest or their attitude, he said, adding that there is “always a level of uncertainty” when policing demonstrations.

Assistant Commissioner for the Dublin region Angela Willis said her team has listened to feedback and have adjusted the policing response. She said Wednesday’s protest is being investigated by a Senior Investigating Officer and that a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Gardaí have policed over 400 protests in Dublin so far this year and have made 43 arrests, including eleven which took place after the protest ended, Ms Willis said.

Asked about the wider policing of anti-immigration protests, the Commissioner said gardaí began taking a more “assertive” approach following an attack on a migrant camp in Dublin city centre earlier this year.

During the incident on Sandwith Street in May, tents belonging to asylum seekers who were sleeping rough were burned down by anti-immigration activists following a protest.

This prompted gardaí to step up efforts to get asylum seekers into more stable accommodation for their own safety. Gardaí also became “a good deal more assertive” in protecting accommodation centres to make people living there feel face.

He said these accommodation centres “have operated and operated successfully without all the huge fears stoked on social media.” People living in the centres have for the most part given no trouble whatsoever, he added.

Asked about the possibility, suggested by several politicians, of imposing a zone around Leinster House where protests would be banned, Mr Harris said this would be difficult to implement “in terms of the tightness of the environs.”

When asked if protest organisers should have to apply for prior clearance to hold demonstrations, Mr Harris said he is “not sure we are there yet as a society.”

He said it is important not to overreact to these protests either from a policing or a legislative point of view, adding that most protests pose no policing problems at all.

Asked about the perceived increase in assaults and antisocial behaviour, Ms Willis said crime patterns are broadly similar to recent years, with the exception of theft offences which have seen an increase.

There has been a reduction in assault causing harm offences but an increase in public order offences. Ms Willis put that increase down to increased detections as a result of more gardaí on the street.