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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

Large-scale arrests expected for suspected ringleaders of Dublin riot

Irish police stand outside a police van as a man is detained inside it
The Irish government and police chiefs are under mounting pressure over last week’s violence in the capital. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Irish police are expected to make sweeping arrests of suspected ringleaders of Thursday’s riot in Dublin and to obtain wider rights to use facial recognition technology to help identify suspects in any future disorder.

The moves come amid mounting pressure on the government and police chiefs over the mayhem on 24 November when an estimated 500 anti-immigrant activists and gangs of youths looted shops, burned vehicles and attacked police, leaving swathes of Ireland’s capital resembling a war zone.

Senior officers have promised “large-scale arrests” of ringleaders and participants in coming weeks in addition to the 34 people already arrested, the Irish Times reported on Monday.

Helen McEntee, the justice minister, also signalled an intention to fast-track legislation to expand the use of facial recognition technology to help police trawl CCTV footage after public disorder incidents.

There are about 6,000 hours of footage from last week’s riot, she said. “This should not take months. It should be done in a matter of days and in a matter of weeks. With the use of facial recognition technology that can be possible.”

The proposal has dismayed civil liberty advocates, opposition politicians and members of the Green party, a junior member of the ruling coalition. “Ramming legislation through the Dáil without proper debate is not the solution,” said Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Labour party’s justice spokesperson. “There has been a building series of missteps in justice.”

Opposition lawmakers will question McEntee in parliament on Tuesday and hope to summon her and the Garda commissioner, Drew Harris, to a justice committee hearing this or next week.

The Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, repeated a call for McEntee and Harris to resign, saying the chaos last week was part of a wider pattern of disorder in Dublin since Covid lockdowns. “The truth is the minister and the commissioner have failed to resource the gardaí correctly, they have failed to bring forward plans for the safety of citizens,” McDonald told the BBC.

The trouble flared after a man stabbed three children and a female care worker outside a school in Parnell Square in central Dublin, seriously injuring the woman and a five-year-old girl, who remains in critical condition.

The 49-year-old suspect is a naturalised Irish citizen but anti-immigrant and far-right groups focused on his Algerian heritage to muster a protest that swiftly turned violent. In recent years allegations that foreign men are fuelling a crime wave have fused with resentment at rising numbers of asylum seekers and a housing shortage, prompting demonstrations, including a rally in September that briefly trapped lawmakers inside parliament.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) called on members and workers to assemble on Monday at O’Connell Street – the site of the worst rioting – to show solidarity with “all of the people” of Dublin.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the unacceptable and outrageous thuggery witnessed on the streets of our capital city and pay tribute to our wonderful gardaí, firefighters, ambulance personnel, local authority workers and our transport workers in how they have responded,” said the union’s general secretary, Owen Reidy.

Paul Lynch, who won the Booker prize on Sunday for his novel Prophet Song, about a dystopian Ireland in the grip of fascism, said the riot had “astonished” him. “At the same time I recognise the truth that this kind of energy is always there under the surface.” He did not write the novel specifically to give a warning, he said after winning the award. “I wrote the book to articulate the message that the things that are in this book are occurring timelessly throughout the ages.”

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