By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
There has been an “exponential increase” in the volume and frequency of protests this year compared with previous years, gardaí have said.
The vast majority of these demonstrations are “of an anti-immigration sentiment”, and the increase is particularly pronounced in Dublin, the Policing Authority was told by senior Garda members.
They said that the force has faced various challenges in attending and monitoring the protests.
Assistant Commissioner Angela Willis said that there had been 115 protests in Dublin in the first two months of this year, which she called an “exponential increase”.
Ms Willis said it was a “significant additional cost” to attend the protests, particularly as public order units need to be on standby.
She said that one of the more challenging aspects is where there is a counter protest, “where we’re trying to keep two opposing sides apart”.
“We have deployed an additional 400 members since January in support of protests,” she said, adding that this involved overtime or bringing in Gardai from different areas.
“We’re stretched, but I suppose we are still managing at the moment.”
She said that while the vast majority of protests are peaceful, they are “very challenging” for gardaí and provide for “very unpleasant scenes for our members”.
The authority was told that a number of prosecutions are before the courts about alleged incidents that have arisen either during protests or on the fringes of protests.
Ms Willis said that there were currently less than 10 incidents before the courts, but other investigations are under way.
She said: “I’m confident that there will be further prosecutions, but again, the vast majority of people that are engaged in protest activity are exercising their right to do that, and it’s in a peaceful manner.”
Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon said that an initial attempt is always made to get in contact with the organisers of the protest, and where they do, they “try to reach some common ground”, and it works very well.
She said this is not always possible because it is not clear who is organising the protest.