Fall in anti-immigration events but ‘huge rise in level of protest aggression’ - Garda

Gardaí in Dublin now dealing with much larger number of pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protest events, says Assistant Commissioner Angela Willis

There has been a sharp decline in the number of anti-immigration protests in Dublin this year but the level of aggression at those that are taking place has increased, according to the senior Garda officer in charge of policing in the city.

Assistant Commissioner Angela Willis said 75 anti-immigration protests were policed in the Dublin region since the start of the year. A total of 73 protests were policed in a six-week period at the start of last year.

However, she told the Dublin City Council joint policing committee on Monday that the level of aggression at protest events taking place recently was significant.

“We obviously see a huge rise in the level of aggression that we encounter at protest activity,” she said of policing under Operation Carrageen, established last year for public protests as those events increased in number.

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At one protest event last week – at the Ballyogan Regional Temporary Rest Centre in South Dublin – 13 arrests were made over two days. Ms Willis said such policing operations would continue when required.

Furthermore, she said An Garda Síochána was providing a policing presence around the Mount Street area in Dublin and the nearby Grand Canal, where International Protection applicants were sleeping in tents.

As the number of anti-immigration events continued to decline, 130 protests related to the Israel-Gaza conflict took place in Dublin city and county. Ms Willis said pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups were often present at the same events, posing “quite significant challenges” for An Garda.

Overall, and despite assumptions to the contrary, Ms Wallis said crime levels in Dublin were lower than trends witnessed before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. With the exception of fraud offences, she said there was “less crime in all the other areas than we had pre-pandemic”, adding that it was “worthy of note we have not surpassed where we were in 2019”.

Drugs valued at €26.1 million were seized in the Dublin region so far this year in Garda operations targeting organised crime, along with €3.5 million in cash, 20 firearms, 54 imitation firearms and 102 rounds of ammunition.

Ms Willis also said there was a significant increase in the number of Garda operations targeting the illegal and antisocial use of scrambler bikes, quads and some e-bikes. Since the start of the year, the number of such vehicles seized reached 175 in Dublin, compared with 75 in all of last year.

New regulations around the use of the vehicles came into effect last week, banning the use of scrambles and scooters by those under the age of 16 years and imposing a speed limit of 20km/h on them. There were 220 crashes involving e-scooters and related vehicles last year, with 54 involving serious injury or fatalities, the committee heard.

Chief Supt Tony O’Donnell, of the Garda’s Dublin South Central Division, said last week’s Garda operation for the Europa League Final passed off with no incidents in the Aviva Stadium or citywide before and after the game.

He said the operation was 20 months in the planning and was “the largest event public order deployment in the history of the State”.

Some 3,000 Garda members – out of a total force of 14,000 – were on duty in the 24 hours before kick-off. As the game between Italian side Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen of Germany began, 1,800 Garda members were on duty, including 20 public order units.

“We’ve never had such a deployment before and these were deployed across the airport, city centre, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar and meeting points in Shelbourne Park, the RDS and the [Aviva] stadium,” he said, adding that the 32,000 fans who came from abroad was the largest number of visiting spectators ever in Ireland for a sports event.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times