Senan Molony and Philip Ryan, Irish Independent, November 28, 2023
Dublin city rioters should have their social welfare cut and be given punitive prison sentences for wreaking havoc across the capital, a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting has heard.
A number of Fine Gael ministers called for tough sentences for those involved in the violence that erupted in Dublin following the stabbing of young children and a creche worker outside a city centre school.
Ministers also insisted there should no suspended sentences offered to those who were involved in looting businesses and setting fire to public transport and garda cars.
Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan said those involved in the riots should be “punished financially” and see their welfare stopped for taking part in the attack on the capital.
Mr O’Donovan questioned whether any of the rioters worked and said most of them are in bed when the rest of the country are up working to pay taxes for their lifestyle
He was supported by Ministers of State Neale Richmond and Jennifer O’Carroll McNeill in calls for “proper punitive” measures to be enforced.
Fine Gael TD Joe O’Reilly said the Special Criminal Courts should be used to bring the rioters to trial for taking part in the riots.
There also calls from Kerry TD Brendan Griffin and Cork-based Senator Tim Lombard to “rein in” Garda Ombudsman.
Earlier, the Taoiseach told the Dáil how he first heard of the stabbing of a woman and several schoolchildren at a lunch hosted last Thursday by the US Chamber of Commerce.
The news emerged that three children and a woman were injured and that the suspect was believed to be Algerian. “I was concerned there was going to be big trouble – and I was in contact with the Minister for Justice within moments,” Mr Varadkar said.
Mr Varadkar’s comment came as Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it seemed the only people who did not see the Dublin riot coming were the members of the government benches and the Garda Commissioner. Speaking in the Dáil, she said there had been a “wholesale abject failure of leadership”.
Ms McDonald accused the Government of carrying out “the most brazen arse-covering I have ever heard in this chamber”.
She said her party had “zero confidence” in the Minister for Justice, Government and Garda Commissioner.
In a passionate contribution, she told the coalition benches: “You’re the only people who didn’t see it happening.”
She had been on the scene, she said, and had seen the “nasty cabal” whipping up hate.
“I spoke to countless people, and they all said one thing in common. They all saw it coming. Either they witnessed it with their own eyes, or they witnessed as on social media platforms.
“We have now the bizarre situation where it seems the only people who didn’t see this coming are the people who are actually in charge.”
These were those in leadership positions – “the minister, the Garda Commissioner, and it seems the entire benches of the Government.”
Reacting today, Tánaiste Micheál Martin criticised Sinn Féin’s response to the riots as a “knee-jerk” attempt to “go for the political jugular”.
Mr Martin said he has “absolute” confidence in Ms McEntee and “regretted” Sinn Féin’s calls for her resignation.
Mr Martin said Sinn Féin has tried to “exploit” the issues that arose from the riots, which saw vehicles and bins set alight and shops raided and damaged.
“I think Irish politics, and the significant divide in Irish politics, is very evident. It’s divided between those who want to sort out problems and resolve issues and those who want to exploit them,” he said.
“I’ve observed Sinn Féin now for the last four to five years. It is, without question, a party that seeks to exploit every issue that arises as opposed to coming forward with constructive ideas as to how to resolve them.
“And, in fact, if you go back over all of the various stances they have taken on a whole variety of issues, you see incoherence and inconsistency.
“Most recently, in the context of the Middle East, we saw it again, seeking to exploit what is a horrendous conflict bringing devastation and death to thousands of people. Sinn Féin’s focus has been, ‘How do we drive a wedge between Government and opposition on this issue? How do we exploit it with a view to try to gain electoral advantage?'”
The Taoiseach said opposition calls for the justice minister and the commissioner to resign are not the “right approach”.
He said such a move could “embolden” those who carried out Thursday’s riot who would see the resignations of Minister Helen McEntee and Commissioner Drew Harris “as a victory”.
Expressing confidence in his party colleague, he said: “Minister McEntee has seen how much work she can get done as minister for justice and she’ll be doing plenty more.”
He added: “Interfering who gets appointed to or removed from positions such as the Garda Commissioner should not be taken lightly, it shouldn’t be taken as the normal cut and thrust of politics. It has consequences and it can be corrosive to the wider justice system and public safety.”
He said previous justice ministers had had their reputations destroyed by the chamber “only to be vindicated” at a later date. During a session of statements on policing, protests and public order, Ms McEntee added: “I want to reassure people that order has been restored and it has been maintained.”
Ms McEntee has said a “strong and visible” garda presence including four public order teams will remain in place in Dublin city centre up to and during the Christmas period.
Holding a press conference following a Cabinet briefing which discussed last Thursday’s riot in the city, the minister said she had asked the Policing Authority to look at further support for An Garda Síochána in terms of equipment and guidance on the appropriate use of force.
Ms McEntee also reiterated her belief that the police response to a riot in Dublin was “absolutely exceptional”, but added that there are “lessons to be learned”.
She said: “I do not want any member of An Garda Síochána looking over their shoulder unsure as to what type of level of force that they can use in responding to these type of difficult scenarios.”
Asked if gardaí could not have stopped the burning of vehicles and looting of shops, Ms McEntee said: “These are situations which unfold in a split second. “I don’t think anybody could have predicted what would have led to Thursday night’s events.
“I think the way in which and the manner in which and the time in which the gardaí responded was excellent.” Asked if this meant nothing could have been done to prevent the riot, Ms McEntee added: “There are always lessons to be learned.”
The minister said she believed the situation could have escalated even further but said “order was restored” by gardaí.
Ms McEntee also said the heads of a bill for the use of facial recognition technology, which could cover its use for investigating riots, would be before Government prior to Christmas.
Asked if additional resources for arming additional gardaí with firearms would be provided, Ms McEntee said there had been no discussions and “no moves to change” the current structure of a mostly unarmed force.
The Taoiseach told the Dáil that gardaí should be commended for their response, “not criticised for these things as such an event is unpredictable and high-risk by its nature”.
Over 400 members of An Garda Síochána were deployed in Dublin City Centre, including over 220 public order gardaí and 34 people were immediately arrested, he said. The force had been maintaining a strong presence in the area since then, including significant public order capacity with dog and mounted units, while water cannons are available, he said.
He defended his cabinet colleague, saying Helen McEntee “has shown how much work she can get done as Minister for Justice. And she’ll be doing plenty more.”
“The minister has doubled the maximum sentence for assault causing harm to 10 years (from five years).
“She has increased the sentence for conspiracy to murder from 10 years to life.
“She has increase the sentence for assaulting a Garda or emergency worker from seven to 12 years.”
The minister was allowing for the introduction of body cameras and modernising laws on and hate crime and incitement to hatred,” he said.
She was also introducing facial and object recognition technology and extending the range of offences for which it may be used, “to include the offences of riot and violent disorder,” he said.
“It doesn’t surprise me that members of this House have called for resignations, but I don’t think that’s the right approach.
“In fact, in many ways, those who conducted the riot and damaged our city last Thursday will see it as a victory and it may even embolden them into interfering in who gets appointed to, or removed from positions such Garda Commissioner.”
Such calls should not be taken lightly, nor as part of the normal cut and thrust of politics, he said.
“It has consequences and it can be corrosive to the wider justice system and public safety.”
Mr Varadkar went on: “In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the resignation of the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland. And here in this chamber, we’ve seen justice ministers have their reputations destroyed, with the chamber and opposition, acting as judge, jury and executioner — only for those justice ministers to be vindicated at a later date.
“I don’t believe that should happen again.”
Garda numbers are recovering, he went on. “We expect them to stabilize this year at around 14,000 and rise again to about 14,500 by the end of next year.
“We know that we haven’t got everything right. And a lot more needs to be done.
“We know that the work now well underway in terms of extra guards, better equipment, and stronger laws needs to be accelerated.
“Above all, I believe this is the time to support the Commissioner and to support the Minister for Justice.
“It is time to work together on behalf of the people that elected us — and I do not believe it’s in their interest to sow division.”