When protests have their own version of a “private security” detail, gardaí have a good idea they are dealing with a potentially serious situation.
Such was the case at the ‘anti-mask’ protest outside the Dáil four weeks ago, where counter-protestor Izzy Kamikaze was struck on the head by a man brandishing a large wooden plank wrapped in the tricolour.
Said one garda source: “When you look at the Kildare street protest, you have individuals with knee pads and elbow pads – they have, for want of a better word their own private security and their look outs, with their radios and their ear pieces.”
The garda added: “There’s a bad element there at the moment. There are parties very, very keen to infiltrate and disrupt the protest that’s there and very, very serious for confrontation.”
And on Saturday, gardaí are bracing themselves again for more ugly scenes and possible violence as the “Let Ireland Live – End the Lockdown” protest gathers at Kildare Street for 1pm.
“The problem is the organisers don’t engage with us, so we don’t know what to expect, how many are expected to attend, where they are meeting up, what route they are taking and what measures we need to take,” said one source.
This leaves gardaí, particularly in the two city centre stations, Pearse Street and Store Street, checking through social media as to what’s expected.
The Event Management Units in both stations have been working on this and throughout Friday there were a series of meetings of senior officers planning for the protest.
It is understood they would also have received intelligence and threat assessments from the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service.
“The challenge for us is on social media trying to anticipate - and even that has become more difficult,” said the source.
There has been open promotion online over the last week of the event, both on the feed of The National Party and prominent individual activists.
The previous two events that saw violence – the one on Kildare Street on September 12 and another at Customs House on August 22 – were organised by broad ‘anti-mask’ movements, Yellow Vests Ireland and Health Freedom Ireland respectively.
The right-wing militants that engaged in the violence latched on to those events, but Saturday’s event is being organised by right wing parties, so gardaí fear the threat could be greater.
One source told theearlier this week: “There is a big concern at the extreme right. The fear is it could be like [Kildare Street] and the fascists may be there, up to cause trouble.
“They are gougers, up to cause a bit of mayhem. We know a lot of them.” The source added: “There could be confrontation between them and the Antifa [anti-fascist] side and we need to get between them.”
Last Saturday, during a protest that went up Grafton Street, Anti-Fascist Action Ireland, joined by republican groupings held a “Reclaim the GPO” demonstration.
But gardaí said the Grafton Street protest did not attract the same right-wing violent elements present at the Dail on September 12.
Various anti-fascist groups have been commenting on the protest and it is likely that some will counter-protest, but whether that will be at or near the right-wing protest, or away from them, is not clear.
“The danger is, like in July, when the National Party was at the Dáil and Justin Barrett was about to speak, Antifa were there and turned up their loudspeaker deliberately, to provoke the other side and there was a confrontation," said a garda.
"We were lucky there wasn’t very serious injury."
Gardaí again stressed they can’t take any action against protestors themselves and that the only power is to go after the organisers.
Some of the organisers have been quite open on social media, so gardaí will have suspicions.
But, gardaí just can’t send a file off to the DPP to charge these individuals. To progress such a prosecution they should approach suspected organisers as they gather and as they march.
“The onus on the guard to go up to people revealed on social media as organising and advise them and engage and encourage them,” said a source.
“There’s not much point going after them afterwards without having gone up to them first. If you don’t do that it won’t help your case going to DPP looking for a prosecution.”
Garda sources said there would be a review of the violence on September 12, when there appeared to be only a couple of gardaí present when a large group of men descended on Ms Kamikaze and three friends and shoved them backwards, with one man hitting her on the head.
“When it happened there was a small number of gardaí there, but when the call came for assistance, gardaí were there within a minute," said a source.
"No doubt people will look at that and ask were there enough guards there at that point in time, before the incident – if we are honest, probably not.”
The source stressed there is a limit to garda resources and a small budget for overtime: “If you put more on the protests, then you are taking them from elsewhere, so you are robbing Peter to pay Paul.
"There will be a public order unit offside. Protestors will see them but they won’t be highly visible – you don’t want to be provocative.”
The source also stressed that it is resource-intensive to block off areas and that if you put barriers at the bottom of one street, like Grafton Street, there’s nothing stopping protestors simply diverting onto other roads in what the source said was a “rabbit’s warren” of streets around Grafton Street and Kildare Street.
The source also pointed out that gardaí are cautious before intervening: “A garda is conscious that if they go in, all their actions are being recorded and what will go up online will be a snippet that distorts the full event.”