DUBLIN — The emboldened racists who ravaged downtown Dublin will end up assaulting racial minorities and politicians if the government doesn’t shut down their extremist organizations and social media groups, Ireland’s justice minister was warned Tuesday as she rejected calls to resign.
Helen McEntee promised extra powers, equipment and discretion for police to use force to avoid any repeat of Thursday’s unprecedented rioting, which was sparked by the stabbing of three children and an afterschool teacher outside a primary school in the heart of the capital. A 5-year-old girl and the teacher remain hospitalized, the child in critical condition.
After right-wing bloggers identified the attacker as an Algerian, extremists using such noms de guerre as “kill all immigrants” quickly rallied supporters via WhatsApp groups to confront and overwhelm Ireland’s lightly-armed and ill-prepared police force. Hours of clashes ended with 60 officers injured, at least 48 suspected rioters arrested, a light-rail train and three buses torched, and more than a dozen shops looted.
As parliament reopened Tuesday for the first time since the riot, lawmakers from the main opposition Sinn Féin party called for McEntee and the police chief, Commissioner Drew Harris, to resign for failing to anticipate the threat, given the preceding months of hate-filled demonstrations and attacks on immigrants focused on Dublin’s poorest districts, where thousands of asylum seekers are housed.
“This should not have been news to you. This has been building for a long time,” said Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, adding that McEntee’s centrist party, Fine Gael, has relinquished its traditional strengths. “The party of law and order, and the party of business — you can no longer claim that mantle.”
McEntee vowed to improve resources and legal guidance for the Garda Síochana, the 14,000-strong police force for this country of more than 5 million people, a fifth of them born outside Ireland.
“No garda [police] member should ever have to look over their shoulder or second guess themselves in such a challenging environment whether the use of force is warranted or necessary. We have to provide that clarity,” she said.
But McEntee faced a tirade of criticism for suggesting that a firmer police deployment in central Dublin through Christmas — involving two dedicated anti-riot squads, dog units and police on horseback — would reassure everyone that the capital was safe again.
“You’re saying in your speech that it won’t happen again. Are you out of your mind?” asked Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, justice spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, Fine Gael’s partner in the 2011-2016 coalition government.
He referred to two separate bids on Monday night by anti-immigrant protesters to confront left-wing politicians in the Dublin districts of Clondalkin and East Wall, where Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald ran an invective-hurling gauntlet.
Anti-immigrant groups, who are being “fed poison” within their own social media bubbles, “are buoyant because they got their spectacular,” Ó Ríordáin said of Thursday’s riot, “and they want more.”
“If you don’t think this can happen again,” he told an ashen-faced McEntee across the floor, “then you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ó Ríordáin said Labour candidates for next summer’s council elections were already expressing fears that their home addresses could be published.
“Do you know that many of us here are unsure as to whether we should speak out about the far right, because they might come for us as well? That’s how dangerous this is,” he said.
Sinn Féin lawmaker Martin Kenny — whose family has endured a string of threats and attacks at their rural home blamed on far-right activists — said ordinary citizens in central Dublin were right to feel insecure, particularly people who are identifiably foreign in appearance.
“Racist abuse is something that workers in our health services, our transport services, across all employment sectors have been dealing with for years. This atmosphere has been generated by an organized group with a specific fascist agenda,” Kenny said. “It is a very short distance from fear to hatred and then on to people being attacked.”