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Home protests Gardaí may bring charges against anti-vax protesters who targeted public figures

A well-placed source said the 'most troubling' protest took place outside Leo Varadkar’s home, which included 'homophobic' element

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Anti-vaccine protestors outside chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s home. There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing

Anti-vaccine protestors outside chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s home. There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing

Anti-vaccine protestors outside chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s home. There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing

Gardaí are building criminal cases against a small number of anti-vaccine campaigners who have been targeting politicians and other public figures in protests outside their homes of late.

The Sunday World understands officers will be seeking to bring criminal charges under incitement to hatred legislation and under public order laws.

A well-placed security source at Garda headquarters said the “most troubling” protest to date took place outside Leo Varadkar’s home in Dublin on September 19, which included a “homophobic” element.

Other politicians targeted outside their homes are Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald. Nphet chief Dr Tony Holohan and RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy were targeted too.

The senior source said gardaí have made a “conscious decision” not to “escalate” protests by making arrests unless there is an immediate risk to the public. The source said people have a right to protest.

“The concept of going in with batons raised to make arrests at these protests is not the approach being adopted,” they said. “It could inflame things. Instead, gardaí are building criminal cases when it can be proven that a criminal offence has taken place.

“The Leo Varadkar protest was the most troubling and is subject of an active criminal investigation in relation to incitement to hatred. Public order charges are also being considered arising from instances at some of the other protests.

“Gardai have to strike a balance in terms of freedom of speech and weigh this up against whether criminal offences are being committed at these protests.

"That people are being targeted outside their private properties is very unsettling for those affected. These protests are of major concern to the force. It used to be that people would protest outside the Dáil, or a politician’s constituency office. Going to people’s homes is a new and worrying departure.

“Outwardly, gardaí present at these protests and keep a watching brief to ensure things don’t get out of hand.

"But behind the scenes, there is detailed work and investigations ongoing to try and lay criminal charges, where necessary.”

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The protest group, which calls itself We the Sovereign People, was behind the demonstration outside Mr Varadkar’s home.

One of the hard-right protesters regularly posts videos online spouting conspiracy theories and has targeted Jewish people online.

A video posted on social media shows around 25 protesters, some holding placards bearing anti-vaccine messages. In another video, homophobic insults can be heard.

The incident was widely condemned by government ministers and politicians of all parties.

One organiser at the protest outside the Tánaiste’s home was Finglas-based Graham Carey, who works as a truck driver and is prolific among anti-vaxxers for his online videos denouncing the Government.

When he was approached outside his own home by the Sunday World in the days after addressing the crowd picketing Mr Varadkar’s house, Mr Carey said: “Don’t ever come back here. Get off. Get off my property.” He is one of a number of anti-vaxxers who have been involved in protests outside the private addresses of politicians.

Officers from the Special Detective Unit (SDU), which monitor sextremists among others, is investigating some protesters. Gardaí have been compiling intelligence files for some time. 

A source said the force has been monitoring the online and offline activities of anti-vaccination campaigners for more than a year.

The source said many of those involved in the recent protests were “not criminal masterminds, and are mostly not criminals at all”.

However, senior gardaí acknowledged a propensity of violence by some far-right extremists is “always a concern, always a possibility”.

“It is not just their activities at the protests being examined, what they say and do online is also being watched in terms of how they engage with like-minded individuals in the US, UK and other parts of Europe, how they fundraise, all of it,” the source said.

“This is a global movement and we are braced for it to continue to escalate.”

A major investigation into the activities of hard-right extremists got under way 15 months ago. Profiling some of the individuals involved in protests in recent weeks is part of this.

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