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Gardaí probe links between Irish anti-asylum-seeker protests and extremist groups overseas

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said gardaí were now liaising with police forces in other European and North American countries to learn lessons about how to handle such far-right agitation

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Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said gardaí had received a huge amount of information from the public. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Ralph RiegelSunday World

Gardaí are gathering intelligence from social-media platforms about how recent anti-asylum-seeker protests have been organised.

The inquiry comes amid indications of input from overseas extremist groups, including far-right groups in Britain and neo-Nazi groups in Europe and North America.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris admitted that recent protests across Ireland had been “sinister”.

He said gardaí were now liaising with police forces in other European and North American countries to learn lessons about how to handle such far-right agitation.

Detectives are probing links between recent Irish protests and extremist groups overseas. It is believed the Irish protests have been organised according to “an agitation playbook” devised by far-right, ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups in Europe and North America.

The aim is to stoke fears within local populations over migration, promote social division for political benefit and to personally target members of community groups, political parties, the media and even security forces who attempt to highlight what is happening.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said gardaí had received a huge amount of information from the public. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Social-media propaganda is a core element of the campaign – with gardaí saying information is now being “weaponised” in a bid to stoke fear over migration issues at a local level.

However, gardaí have said they believe the number of people involved in organising the protests targeting refugees has been quite small.

“You have to look to the character of what is happening,” Commissioner Harris said.

“It surrounds individuals and even to call them groups is probably not a description that applies.

“They are individuals that coalesce around others with similar outlooks.

“They find each other on social media – they then create a platform with which they communicate with each other.

“We are not unique in facing this problem.

“It is right across Europe and we have learned a lot of lessons from our colleagues across Europe on how to investigate these matters.

“It is our duty to investigate – and it is our duty then to use all means to gather intelligence and information and that is what we are doing.”

Commissioner Harris stressed that if gardaí needed the help of social-media companies to facilitate inquiries into such far-right activities, the firms involved would be contacted.

“(If it is) to further our inquiries then obviously we will do so,” he said.

Gardaí said they were not surprised by the suspected overseas elements behind the protests.

“A character of these events is that there is always an international element. There is always an element where they connect with each other through social media.

“It is then very easy to talk to someone on the other side of the globe, be it in Europe or the USA or wherever they might be.

“That is the character of a connected world through social media. That is just the reality of what we are investigating.”

The garda chief stressed that the force had monitored all the protests which, to date, had complied with all garda directions.

“We are very, very aware of what is happening on the ground, Commissioner Harris said.

“We have received a huge amount of information from the public. We do police all of these protests and events.

“We police them in a manner which preserves the peace in the first place. But we also make sure that laws are not broken and that public safety is maintained.

“Up until now these protests have been peaceful and they have complied with garda direction and we have policed them in a manner which we believe is commensurate with the behaviour that we see.”

Commissioner Harris stressed that gardaí were also fully aware of the local background to the protests and “the sinister agenda” involved.

He said officers would be consulting with a local councillor whose Dublin home was picketed by protesters, and whose family were left terrified as a result.

Justice Minister Simon Harris warned it was now clear that “a small but sinister element (was) attempting to sow division within communities across our country”.

“It is a small, sinister and far-right element – we need to call that out for what it is.”

The Dublin protest was part of an apparently broader plan to intimidate all those who have spoken out against anti-asylum-seeker demonstrations.

In some instances, protesters appear to have deliberately tried to provoke a reaction to their demonstrations – and to link their protests with existing social issues such as housing and healthcare resources.

Some protests have been organised with the apparent aim of causing chaos at a local community level.

In Dublin and Cork, members of the media covering protests have been followed to their cars, with vehicles being photographed and licence plate numbers noted.


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