manhunt  | 

Homes raided in hunt for south Dublin man who launched firework at gardaí during anti-lockdown riot

Two properties were raided in the Dun Laoghaire area this morning when members of the Armed Support Unit backed up investigating gardaí to carry out early morning searches of the homes.

Gardaí form a line on Grafton Street after disorder erupted at a planned anti-lockdown gathering in Dublin city centre on Saturday.

Ken Foy

A manhunt is ongoing for the 30-year-old south Dublin man who threw a firework at gardaí during Saturday’s violent demonstrations in the capital.

Two properties were raided in the Dun Laoghaire area this morning when members of the Armed Support Unit backed up investigating gardaí to carry out early morning searches of the homes.

However the suspect, who is previously known to gardaí, was not present.

The development comes as specialist gardaí are investigating whether leaders of far-right groups in Ireland are being “actively encouraged” by foreign extremist agitators, senior sources have revealed.

A massive investigation is ongoing into the riot at an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre on Saturday which led to three officers being injured, 23 people being arrested and 13 people being charged with public order offences, including a 68-year-old Shankill-based dentist.

More arrests are expected including the 30-year-old who threw a firework at gardaí, but officers continue to monitor the activities of the ring leaders of the disturbance with plans being made for more demonstrations in the coming weeks.

“These individuals have been monitored for many months now by the Special Detective Unit and the National Cybercrime Bureau – there is a strong suggestion that activities here are being stoked by groups outside this country,” a senior source explained.

“While they have an overt presence on a number of social media platforms, they also use encrypted messaging services and it is suspected in some cases even use encrypted phones to communicate with each other.”

The messaging services include mobile apps such as Signal, Telegram and Threema.

“This makes it difficult for gardaí to infiltrate these far-right groups but it also shows how organised they are.

“Despite this, gardaí have had good success in dealing with this growing threat and evidence of this is the fact that a special policing operation was put in place on Saturday as gardaí had prior knowledge that protests were going to happen and there was a real expectation of violence considering what had happened at previous protests,” the source added.

A total of 125 gardaí, including multiple public order units from across the city, were present in the city centre to police the protest.

Saturday’s protest was organised online by a group called RiseUp Éireann who called it a "Unite the Tribes" event and in the aftermath of the shocking violence, the group took to social media to announce that the demonstration was a success.

Extremists, including former members of Generation Identity, are suspected of instigating the violence and gardaí observed members of the National Party who vehemently oppose lockdowns at the event.

Yellow Vests Ireland, Síol na hÉireann, Irish Freedom Party and the National Party have been the predominant organisers of rallies in Dublin since the pandemic began but these have often been hijacked by violent far-right extremists, including those formally linked to disbanded Generation Identity.

Around half a dozen officers in the Special Detective Unit are tasked with monitoring the online activities of both extreme right-wing and left-wing groups in Ireland.

“On their own these groups have very small numbers but when the different groups get together to carry out acts of public disobedience in which they do not comply with the Covid regulations, it ends up being a fairly sizeable amount of people,” a senior source said.

Speaking after the violent demonstration, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said: "The vast majority of those who took part belong to a number of factions including anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown far-right groups, and those intent on trouble and disorder."

The source said: “There is monitoring going on right now, in light of last Saturday, of violence at other protests and some online activity. Gardaí are well aware of the growth in popularity of some ideas, particularly online. The gardaí have lots of ways of watching those who need to be watched.”

Officers have been observing a growth in the activities of far-right groups since the coronavirus health crisis began a year ago which has proved to be a fruitful breeding ground for the extremist groups. Officers have investigated incidents, many including the spreading of fake news in the aftermath of the shooting of George Nkencho in December and the racist harassment of Dublin Lord Mayor Hazel Chu in January.

“These groups are an increasing problem and as the events of last weekend show, they have the capability to cause very serious disorder.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that they are a threat to the stability of the State, especially as it tries to deal with the huge challenges of the public health situation,” the source said.

As far back as November 2019, Mr Harris said he was concerned about the increase in right-wing extremism in Ireland.

“I am concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe,'' he told a meeting of the Policing Authority.

“The difficulty with it is that it's spread through the web and spread through social media. And we just need to be very careful, in terms of some of the things that have happened to date here in Ireland. We now see it starting to arrive on our shores," he said.

"We're very acutely aware of it and we're very acutely aware there's a policing response, and indeed an intelligence response, that we need to have to thwart that particular threat,” he told the meeting over 15 months ago.

Last October, Mr Harris warned far-right extremist groups have a “propensity for violence” after 11 people were arrested for public order offences at an anti-lockdown protest on Grafton Street.

Mr Harris said at the time: “What we found concerning about these groups is you can see an initial call on open source media, then quickly they go to covert means of communicating with each other.

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

He added: “Once we become aware of protests being organised, we do try to find out intelligence about it, because we have a concern about the risk of violence.”

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