A “small but sinister element” is using asylum seeker protests to sew division in communities across the country, according to the acting Justice Minister.
Simon Harris was speaking after the Garda commission said the force is investigating a small group of far-right activists who are using the protests for their own “sinister agenda”.
Speaking this afternoon, Drew Harris said all protests at migrant accommodation centres in recent weeks have been peaceful, with those involved complying with Garda direction.
He warned, however, that investigators are gathering information on people operating 2in the background”.
The Justice Minister noted that many locals in the communities that have seen protests have spoken out against them.
“It is a time where a small but sinister element are attempting to sew division in communities across our country and, whilst we did see protests - relatively small protests - in a number of locations last night, we also saw many communities speak out against those protests, saying that is not in my name,” he said.
“We saw many people on a cross-party basis saying this is not in my name either.”
The Government has been heavily criticised in recent weeks for its failure to provide suitable housing for asylum seekers arriving here.
The situation looks set to get worse in the coming months, with many hotels that are currently providing accommodation yet to agree to sign contracts for the spring.
Speaking at the passing out ceremony in Templemore today, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said a small number of people are using the situation for their own ends.
“We are gathering information on individuals who, in the background, have a more sinister agenda and wish to use this for their own motives – and their motives are not good,” he said.
“Their motives could be described as being far right and our investigations and inquiries are ongoing in respect of them.
“But again, we will have to wait and see what happens. If there is a breach of the criminal law, obviously then we will act in terms of reporting the matter to the DPP.”
"Fear and concern"
He said the groups are driving fear and concern in communities.
“These are individuals – very, very small in number,” he said.
“They find influence through social media and then they wish to bring out numbers through false information and creating fear and concern in the community.
“They are driven by prejudice, it has to be said, and we are very aware of that; we are very aware of the risk to public safety and our responsibility in terms of preventing crime and gathering intelligence.
“They all come to the fore and we are conducting our enquiries as you would expect.”
He said Ireland is ‘not unique in facing this problem’ – and said Gardaí are liaising with police forces across Europe on “how to investigate these matters”.