Organised crime members and far-right figures have played a role in recent escalations at anti-migrant protests.
That’s according to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who said organised criminals are seeking to prevent the increased Garda presence asylum seekers would create in certain areas.
Ashtree Risk Group manager and former Garda Inspector Tony Gallagher told Newstalk Breakfast there has been “infiltration” by criminal gangs at several protests in recent months, including Housing for All and recent anti-migrant protests in Dublin.
“Their agenda is to push anarchy and enhance their own reputations,” he argued.
“The vast majority of people are out for legitimate reasons to protests, and it's unfortunate to see this type of thing seeping in and overthrowing a legitimate reason [for protesting].”
Mr Gallagher explained that Gardaí often use “digital intelligence” on social media to discover if organised criminals plan on attending protests.
“The arrests might not happen on the day of the event, but they certainly will happen and have happened,” he said.
At protests, Gardaí are tied to legislation that requires “dialogue and de-escalation”, which Mr Gallagher prefers – but recent protests have raised calls for “robust action”.
“Our legislation is not sufficiently strong for Gardaí to start moving people off the streets,” he explained.
“You've seen the robust action taken in the likes of France, Spain and the UK, and they have legislation to deal with it.”
The Public Order Act of 1994 is not equipped to allow Gardaí to prevent protests such as the road blockade against asylum seekers in Clare recently.
“In some ways, [legislation] may have served as well because the discretion and the assessing of the situation gives us more of a liberal attitude in how we might approach it,” Mr Gallagher said.
Despite that, some legislation is required to give Gardaí more power when protests escalate to violence.
“There comes a time where you have to take out the main antagonists, and certainly that has to be done on our terms,” Mr Gallagher argued.
“You need the backup and the capacity to achieve your objective. And without that the Gardaí are in there in a very difficult position.”
New legislation should be informed by Garda experience to create the best approach to preventing violence.
“The policy needs to be driven from the commissioner down,” Mr Gallagher said.