THE SIGHT OF anti-immigration and far-right protesters swarm around Finglas Garda Station on Wednesday night led to the deployment of public order trained gardaí.
The significant operation was launched during the latest anti-immigration protest in the Dublin suburb which saw about 200 people gather at the station decrying the arrival of asylum seekers to the country.
Sources have said the hardcore of the protest movement across the country is small in number, approximately 150 disparate people, but it is understood that gardaí are closely monitoring the situation. It is also understood that some of the most vocal of that group involved in the anti-immigration campaign are based in the greater Finglas area.
While rallies have been organised at locations believed to be designated as asylum seeker accommodation, the protestors have also focused their rage on Finglas gardaí following the arrest of a well-known agitator on Wednesday.
Garda sources have noted that not only are many of the protesters anti-migrant, but they are also anti-politician and anti-garda. Many of those involved also protested against vaccines and mask mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic – some of whom identify as sovereign citizens – a global political ideology that State laws do not apply to them.
The protest groups also contain some people with criminal connections, according to sources.
In recent days, Assistant Commissioner Angela Willis, who is in command of the Dublin Metropolitan Region said that there has been a dramatic increase in protests in recent months.
At a meeting of the Dublin City Council on Monday, Willis said that in all of 2021, gardaí policed 395 protests. In 2022, this dropped to 307 but so far in the first month of the year they have policed 64 protests.
Gardaí, in operational order documents ahead of planned protests, always mention the right to protest at the end of the briefings. This will include a mention of Irish constitutional rights and international human rights treaties – the orders stress that all groups must be treated equally.
Yesterday’s actions in Finglas by the gardaí looked different to how they policed the recent wave of anti-immigration marches. In other locations in the past few months, gardaí have focused more on crowd control and ensuring traffic could flow around the events.
With any movement that may threaten the peace, gardaí start with intelligence operations. With any organisation that may be endangering the security of the State – the primary intelligence agency involved is the National Crime and Security Intelligence Agency.
This unit is tasked with providing information on threats and to monitor groups which could be a risk for violence.
While this unit traditionally monitors homegrown terror groups such as the IRA and organised crime groups, sources have said that they also have monitored the activities of violent Islamic and right-wing groups.
They have also monitored foreign state actors who may be carrying out operations in Ireland.
Their primary role is gathering intelligence, via informants and technological means, but also providing timely information on developing threats and reports on the continuing activities. They also interact with information provided by foreign agencies.
Sources have said that all decisions taken to monitor protest organisers are based on a risk assessment – an intelligence report is compiled and determinations are taken on the basis of the information contained in that.
Those sources have said that there are elements within the anti-immigration protests associated with organised crime – and that this is also informing how they monitor the situation.
A key aspect to the garda intelligence gathering methods is local detectives, uniform gardaí and intelligence officers known as collators who are tasked routinely with monitoring people who may pose a threat to the State across the country.
As people come on their radar, they then maintain a watching brief on them.
Sources have said that plain-clothes gardaí will attend meetings and other events to gather intelligence on the protesters if it is deemed necessary.
The information gathered from sources, both human and technological, is then developed by so-called collator offices – the divisional based intelligence units. This is then disseminated to gardaí who in turn, while on patrol, record the movements of suspects.
There is further monitoring of these suspects and their behaviour is noted.
A number of the high profile far-right protesters have had contact with gardaí in the past. It is believed that one key figure has been involved in organised crime while another Dublin-based man has a large number of incidents of domestic violence recorded.
Gardaí are also monitoring activities of these groups on social media.
Once a protest is known about by the gardaí, an operational order is compiled. The order, depending on the size of the predicted demonstration, will determine how many gardaí are involved and how they will be used.
Sources said they first categorise the event into categories such as rally and protest.
Everything the gardaí do is based on a decision-making model that places risk assessments as the key to determining how this will be carried out.
Gardaí have taken much of their protest policing model from best practice developed abroad but also from hard lessons learned here in Ireland following such incidents as the May Day protests and the Love Ulster Parade.
On 1 May 2004 during a European Union conference in Dublin, gardaí deployed water cannon in skirmishes with groups protesting at the gates of the Phoenix Park. The violence broke out after gardaí prevented the marchers from approaching Farmleigh, the government guesthouse where a dinner of EU leaders was being held.
The Love Ulster Parade saw gardaí attacked and a riot on O’Connell Street as supposed republicans reacted to a march by Unionists in Dublin city centre on 25 February 2006.
There were also lessons learned from successful European leader conferences – in which gardaí managed violent protests by Black Group anarchists.
Another protest in 2002 saw a number of gardaí investigated for assaults following a Reclaim the Street march in which gardaí deployed batons – this protest particularly informed garda practices and procedures.
Sources have said that many protest groups will engage with gardaí ahead of the march but it is understood that the far-right groups do not do this.
Community gardaí are often tasked with engaging with participants and developing a relationship between the organisers and local groups.
A source said: “Digital intelligence and social media posts are analysed, this will dictate a particular type of policing response, the organisers of most rallies will meet with gardaí and have a stewarding plan.
“Planners are experienced and will decide on a plan and present to management, their views are taken on board,” the source said.
Part of the process of planning the policing response is based around location – the State’s most experienced protest policing management teams are based in Dublin city centre, both in Pearse Street and Store Street garda stations.
They have an ability to deploy barriers around buildings such as the Dáil – and also can use a public order law to control access and carry out searches on specific streets and areas.
Before any protest takes place, gardaí decide on the manning levels needed and what specialist units, such as the Public Order Unit, Air Support Unit, Dog and Mounted units, are needed.
They also decide if the policing units working during their shift can handle the issue or if there is a need for gardaí to be drafted in from other locations or if there is a need to pull off duty gardaí in to work.
Sources have said these gardaí are brought in on overtime – with local garda commanders having to make the difficult budgetary decisions balancing risk against the available funds.
An overall commander, who is specifically trained in large-scale policing, is employed to manage the situation usually in a control room who then has inspectors and sergeants acting as their on-the-ground commanders.
The gardaí involved in the policing are usually on a dedicated radio channel providing them with critical information – the radio control room will have specially trained gardaí to manage communications.
For instance, in the last number of years control room operators were specifically trained in how to manage marauding terror attacks and armed incidents.
Protests are always managed on the basis of an escalating matrix of response – known as dynamic risk assessments.
Sources speak of soft cap response in hi-visibility uniform as the first response – these are gardaí walking with the protest or, if needed, forming a line blocking its progress.
As the incident develops, the commander in the control room then, using reports from on the ground, from CCTV or footage from the garda helicopter if available, will make a decision.
The on-scene commanders will begin to recommend the deployment of the public order unit if missiles begin to be thrown or there is evidence that an attack on the lightly armoured gardaí is imminent.
The commander also has a so-called tactical advisor with them in the control room to help make decisions.
“These decisions are being taken very rapidly and there is a lot of pressure at times – these are very stressful. Do you deploy the public order unit because that can be an escalation in itself?” a source explained.
Do you leave soft cap gardaí in place and risk them being injured – these decisions are huge calls and they are being made in seconds – the problem of course is that if it goes wrong you’ll be writing on it for years trying to explain that split second decision.”
Public Order Unit
The public order unit would normally be “staging up” close by and can be called into the scene very quickly – either on foot or in vans – was was the case in Finglas on Wednesday.
The practice in Ireland is to only deploy the public order unit as a last resort with the decision resting on the officer in command of the operation.
Sources with a knowledge of operations utilising the public order unit said that there is a conscious effort by gardaí to deploy them only when it is absolutely necessary.
Even within the decision to deploy them there are degrees of escalation – from deploying them in baseball caps to full riot shields, helmets and batons.
One source, who is aware of public order policing in Dublin city centre, said that while on the ground gardaí may be calling for them to be deployed, the officer in command will hold them back.
“There’s been a good few incidents where they’ve held the public order unit in the vans – not putting them out on foot.
“Often the officer in control has a bigger picture of what is happening, there is a tactical commander in there too but ultimately it is their call,” the source explained.
In Ireland, the public order unit do not use the controversial tactic of kettling, utilised by police forces in the UK and elsewhere. This is where police officers corner a body of people they suspect are about to become assaultive.
They then hold them for a period of time so that the crowd can calm down.
This has made for a lot of controversy, particularly in London for the Met Police, but in Ireland the gardaí will always leave an escape route.
“It’s about dispersion rather than holding them there – there is an argument to be made that kettling could be a form of false imprisonment,” the source added.
Arrest teams can also be deployed to arrest aggressive people – the decision to make arrests is in the hands of the individual garda.
No one in Ireland has the power to direct a garda to make an arrest but there are occasions where ring leaders will be identified and a team will be used to detain them – generally for a public order offences.
Regardless of what happens with the garda overt response there are regularly gardaí in the crowd also reporting back – particularly at largescale events.
They are in plain clothes and take images of agitators or if needed take details and also monitor who is in the crowd and gather evidence.
While public order arrests can be made on the street by individual gardaí a lot of the arrests for serious disorder such as affray or riot are taken later.
Images of people are circulated internally to gardaí and members are asked to “make nominations” or identify the suspects.
Serious incidents such as assaults and serious criminal damage such as arson during public order incidents will require a complaint from the victim of the crime.
They will have to make a statement to gardaí and then evidence such as CCTV and statements from witnesses will be gathered.
The evidence will then be compiled in a file and sent to the Director of Public Prosecution to determine if there are grounds to charge.
All sources have stressed that gardaí actively view protests, regardless of the groups involved, through the prism of public order.
In a statement on Wednesday night, gardaí said they ”policed a protest which took place outside Finglas Garda station… No incidents were reported. No arrests were made. No protest activity took place within Finglas Garda Station.”
However, it is understood there is ample footage of the event on the CCTV of Finglas Garda Station – and the teams of plain clothes gardaí would have been monitoring the behaviours as well as the developing threat of Ireland’s far right.