Gardaí were confronted with the prospect of a “very frightening stampede” by anti-lockdown and far-right protestors on Grafton Street when they moved in to arrest 11 of them on Thursday night, the Garda Commissioner has said.
Drew Harris said these groups had already shown a “propensity to violence” and said Garda intelligence shows the actual intention of these protests is to conduct “unlawful” activity, such as disrupting Government business.
He dismissed any claims that gardaí, who drew batons at one stage, displayed “heavy handedness” in their actions.
The Garda chief said some of these protest groups follow far-right conspiracy theory, known as the Great Replacement theory, which sees white western societies being overtaken by immigrants with the support of elites, or people in positions of power.
Commissioner Harris was commenting on the public disorder on Grafton Street when members of a protest barged their way past gardaí, who were keen to prevent a recurrence of scenes almost three weeks ago when ‘anti-mask’ protestors staged a sit down on the pedestrian street.
The protest group, which numbered a couple of hundred at stages, had earlier briefly blocked O’Connell St Bridge before attempting to march on the Convention Centre, where the Dáil is sitting, and then blocking traffic by Dublin Port.
Speaking at Garda HQ on Garda measures in relation to the Level 5 lockdown, Commissioner Harris said one problem with these protests is that there is no organiser for gardaí to engage and negotiate with.
“With these protests there is no organiser," he said. "What we see is covert arranging of protests, we see intelligence which tells us what their intentions are - their intentions appear to be to disrupt the port, to disrupt the activity of the Government, disrupt Government departments and that can’t be tolerated.
He added: “Lastly, and regrettably, these groups, have shown a propensity to violence. We’ve seen in recent times there has been violence associated with these protests.”
He said the policing of Covid-19 restrictions turned into public order policing on Grafton Street: “In the end, last night we were using public order legislation to prevent actually what would have been a very frightening stampede up Grafton Street, a pedestrian street, and that can’t be allowed either.”
The Commissioner added: “There was no heavy handedness on our part – our response was proportionate to what we believe were public order threats being created by that protest.”
He said the groups involved in the ‘anti-lockdown’ and far-right protests were “a mix of groups of extremist views”, sharing many beliefs, but differing in others.
The Garda chief said: “You do see amongst 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.”
He said: “What we find concerning about these groups, you can see an initial call on open source media and quickly then they go to covert means to communicate with each other and that tells us right from the start there’s a problem here and we should be concerned about the protest that’s going to follow.”