IRELAND’S POLICE CHIEF TRIES TO BLAME THE IRISH LEFT FOR FAR-RIGHT DISTURBANCES

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 15 mins)

The fascist far-Right in Ireland organised a protest in Dublin on Saturday 27th February against the Government-ordered restrictions on travel and entertainment, pubs etc. In a departure from the usual submissive conduct of these “rebels” with the Gardaí, some of the participants were aggressive towards the police to the extent of throwing fireworks at them. Following the event, Drew Harris, the Commissioner of the Irish State’s police force, the Garda Síochána, outrageously claimed that the far-Right and the far-Left and Republicans had jointly organised the event but soon had to withdraw the claim. Irish Republicans were also blamed by the State’s television broadcaster on-line report which was also subsequently edited to remove the allegation but the Minister for Justice repeated them. Opinion is divided about the significance of these claims.

27 February 2021: Gardaí clash with participants in anti-Lockdown protest organised by the Far-Right in Dublin’s Grafton Street after fireworks were thrown at the police (Photo sourced: Internet)

The event was attended by a number varying, according to reports, from 300 to 1,000 and undoubtedly attracted participation from some people who would not normally be regarded as of the far-Right. However it was organised from the Far-Right with the fascist National Party taking a prominent role and not only would the socialist Left and Republicans not have any kind of association with the fascists and other far-Rightists but they had actively opposed the latter and sections of the former had clashed with them on a number of occasions.

Drew Harris, Garda Commissioner (most senior post in the police force of the Irish state) — he was forced to withdraw his claim that the “far Left” had organised the anti-Lockdown march jointly with the far-Right, the actual organisers (Photo sourced: Internet)

After the uproar over his claim, including by some TDs in the Dáil), Drew Harris withdrew the allegation but pretended that there had been “initial indications” to give rise to his accusation. Subsequently, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee tried to obscure the issue, claiming that some people who had previously been Republicans had subsequently become far-Rightists. Regardless of the alleged isolated case of an individual here and there, their claims had neither Irish nor world history to suggest what Harris had said. From the moment fascism appeared in history, communists and socialists have fought it, right around the world. As Hitler, Mussolini and later Franco clawed their way to power in Germany, Italy and Spain, communists and socialists and anarchists – i.e the so-called “far left” — fought them fiercely and when they lost there, paid with their lives. The turning points of WW2 came outside Moscow, even inside Stalingrad and in the Battle of Kursk. Overall it cost twenty million Soviet Union lives to turn the war.

In the rest of the world, during the 1930s the “far Left” fought fascism and this was the case in Ireland too, although here, where the Left was small, Irish Republicans led the struggle and drove the Blueshirts off the streets, some of their number also going on to fight the fascists in the Spanish state. It was De Valera’s pseudo-Republican government, installed in particular on Republican votes, that banned the Blueshirts but was soon to ban the IRA too.

So nothing in World or Irish history exists to give rise to Drew Harris’ outrageous and outlandish early claims.

PARTIAL RECENT HISTORY OF SOCIALIST AND REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION TO THE FAR-RIGHT

But further – in more recent history in Ireland, Republicans and Socialists have mobilised against racism, fascism, and populist groups of the far-Right. In 2016 the European Islamophobic organisation Pegida planned to launch itself in a major city in every European state and planned a Dublin GPO rally on 6th February. A massive mobilisation took place against them and Republicans and Socialists1 confronted them physically, so that an Irish fascist required A&E treatment and the East European fascists needed to be taken out of the area in a police van with another acting as a diversion. Three Republicans still face serious charges2 arising from those events.

One of a number of struggles as Gardaí attacked Republicans and Socialists actively opposing the fascists attempting to launch the Pegida islamophobic organisation in Dublin in February 2016. An RTÉ photographer was batoned by one of those Gardaí (who was eventually fined but never disciplined within the force). This scene was photographed in Cathedral Street, just off O’Connell Street, with the fascists hiding out in a nearby pub until rescued and driven from the area in a police van. (Photo credit: The Journal)

More recently, since the fascists and other far-Rightists have begun to organise again, Socialists and Republicans have confronted them time and time again. And the Gardaí and their intelligence service know this from monitoring social media traffic and from policing those events, without needing even their other facilities such as phone tapping and informers. They know also that the Far-Right have been threatening Republican and Socialist activists with violence and accusing them of being paedophiles, drug merchants, child kidnappers, paid agents of a certain Greek Millionaire etc.

Far-Right racist, fundamentalist Catholic and crazy conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty has often been confronted by Socialists and Republicans at her public protests, as have others such as Niall McConnell and his handfull of Síol na hÉireann fascists, or other fascists such as Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party, Justin Barrett of the National Party, along with the likes of QAnon and other small far-Right groups and the larger populist Irish Yellow Vests, led by the Islamophobe Glen Miller.

The Gardaí have attended all the public events of the far-Right in Ireland and whenever they have seen the Left and/or Republicans attend also, it was clear to the police that it was to counter-protest. On some occasions the Gardaí have been content to keep the two sides apart but on others have actively sided with the Right. A few Dublin examples will suffice:

  • A number of those countering a Gemma O’Doherty “free speech” protest in Dublin in November 2019 were threatened with arrest for getting ‘too close’ to the far-Rightists while on the other hand some of the latter were permitted to walk among their opponents and challenge them, all the while under police protection.
  • On 14th December 2019, a broad gathering of anti-fascists and anti-racists occupied the planned protest ground of the far-Right in a counter “Rally for Peace” outside Leinster House, outnumbering the latter by order of at least two to one. Republicans and Socialists were, of course, with the antifascists.
Anti-Racist Rally for Peace outside Leinster House 14 Dec 2019 — the Socialists and Republicans are among the anti-racists on the right of photo, confronting the Far-Right rally opposite who are pretending to be patriots flying the Republican tricolour (also official flag of the State). (Photo: D.Breatnach)
  • In January 2020 a smallish Irish Yellow Vest protest on Custom House quay was confronted by much smaller group of antifascists from the Irish Left. The unfurling of the Antifa flag was sufficient to attract instant hostility and threatening behaviour from the far-Rightists.
  • Early in the year Gardaí permitted some of the far-Right QAnon protesters at the GPO to cross the street to insult counter protesters on the central pedestrian reservation, often at one-foot distances without wearing masks (despite the pandemic); then rescued one of them who had entered among the counter-protesters to punch a Republican, escorting the fascist safely out and refusing to arrest him.
  • A few weeks later, the Gardaí removed a counter-protester who had approached the QAnon and been assaulted by one of the latter, not even cautioning the assailant.
  • Gardaí harassed masked and social-distancing Debenhams pickets under pandemic restrictions in Henry St. while not bothering QAnon around the corner at the GPO who were neither wearing masks nor social distancing.
  • On a number of those Saturdays the Special Branch police also harassed Republicans picketing in solidarity with political prisoners.
  • On 11th July 2019 during a homophobic rally (under the pretence of “protecting children from paedophilia’) of the Far-Right outside Leinster House, the Gardaí permitted thugs to attack a tiny counterprotest, beating them and grabbing their banner before the police chose to intervene, arrested none of the assailants and ushered the counter-protesters away.
  • On 31st July 2020 a Far-Right and fascist islamophobic protest outside Croke Park was opposed by anti-racist anti-fascists, including Socialists and Republicans.
  • On 8th August 2020 antifascists including Socialists and Republicans opposed a Far-Right march (towards RTÉ) and clashed with them on O’Connell Bridge, on D’Olier Street and again later at the GPO.
  • On 18th October 2020 a mixed-gender group of Socialists, Republicans and LGBT campaigners counterprotesting an Irish Yellow Vest rally on Custom House Quay were attacked by a larger male group, mostly masked (although at an anti-mask protest!) and armed with metal bars and wooden clubs. The Gardaí allowed the unequal fighting to continue for a while before intervening, a few police gently ushering the assailants back while the rest, including the riot police, violently pushed the counter-protesters out of the area, threatening them with drawn batons and forcing them to leave one of their number unconscious on the ground. The Gardaí’s statement later was that there had been no serious incidents and that they had arrested four people (which occurred in an unrelated incident at the other end of the Quay).
Antifascists (centre of photo) resist attack by fascists (mostly left of photo) on Dublin’s Custom House Quay; one antifascist is fending off a flagpole wielded by a fascist 22 August 2020. Many of the fascists were armed and also masked to avoid identification at the anti-masking rally called by Irish Yellow Vests. The Gardaí permitted the attack for a while before gently ushering the fascists back a little but driving the antifascists with threats and violent pushes all the way back on to Butt Bridge (Source photo: Internet)
  • Three weeks later, at a National Party rally outside Leinster House in Kildare St, a tiny oppositional group of women were attacked and an LGBT campaigner clubbed to the ground. Streaming blood from a head wound, the Gardaí pushed her out of the area. Later their statement claimed that nothing had happened but due to social media videos in circulation and protests had to change their story but claimed the victim had to make a complaint!3
  • On 1st February and again on 10th October 2020 in Kildare Street, socialist and republican counter-protesters were attacked by Gardaí. They also sealed off a section of Nasseau Street to prevent the National Party from being pursued by their opponents as they left.
Far-Right rally outside Leinster House 1st February 2020 opposed by Republicans and Socialists (that is where most of the Gardaí are).  (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Far-Right rally (left of photo) outside Leinster House 1st February 2020 opposed by Republicans and Socialists (right of photo, where most of the Gardaí are). (Photo: D.Breatnach)
The Gardaí are in no doubt about the allegiances of the Republicans and Socialists: after driving them (foreground) back with batons from the National Party (seen in the distance, with very few police there) on 10th October 2020, the riot police kept pushing them into Molesworth St. until they had established a safe distance, then escorted the NP supporters out of Kildare St.
  • On 22nd October 2020 for the first time (that time in Grafton Street also), the police attacked some of the Far-Right at a protest organised by the Yellow Vests. However that was because not only were they violating all the restrictions but they were jamming Grafton Street and refusing to move and some even getting aggressive with the Gardaí, which led to a few baton blows and 11 arrests (no ‘far-Left’ there that time either). Drew Harris claimed afterwards that they were investigating the organisers and perhaps they did finally warn them off as the Yellow Vests organised nothing officially since – but as we can see, their place has been taken by other far-Right groups.
Republicans and Socialists after clashing with supporters of the fascist National Party outside Leinster House, then chasing them on to Nasseau Street, where the Gardaí not only provided the fascists with an escort but also blocked off the eastern end of the street, 10th October 2020. (Photo source: possibly D.Breatnach or AFA?)

WHAT GAVE RISE TO HARRIS’ EARLY STATEMENT?

Some have explained Harris’ early statement as coming from the liberal complaint that “extreme Right and extreme Left are essentially the same”. Certainly this travesty of analysis exists and it is a fact that we have seen some of that view expressed by some media pundits. Such liberal claims serve as excuses for the liberals not to take action in defence of the vaunted democratic rights when the fascists organise. Then the liberals criticise those who go out to fight the fascists and to try to prevent them taking power. Sometimes the State uses these liberals to justify the banning of “far left” organisations, sometimes at the same time as those of the far right. Of course, the capitalist system remains to do the work of pushing austerity on to the working people and in such situations the State knows who the real enemies of the capitalist system are and hardly needs the fascists any more.

Drew Harris in his former role as Deputy Chief of the PSNI (formerly the RUC), the British colonial police force in Ireland (Photo sourced: Internet)

However, Drew Harris is no liberal. In 2014 he was deputy head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the successor of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, an armed colonial police force with a long history of suppression of anti-colonial resistance and democratic rights and, in fact, riven with anti-Catholic and anti-republican sectarianism. It is a force with a long history of brutality, torture and murder.

One of the many scenes of the RUC colonial police, forerunner of the PSNI, attacking unarmed civil rights marchers, this one in Duke Street, Derry, 1968. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Many people outside the Six Counties mistakenly view the British Army as the main repressive force of British colonialism there; however that role belongs to the armed colonial police. From the partition of Ireland in 1921, it was they who raided the nationalist areas, arrested people, beat them up, sometimes murdered them, enforced the sectarian and fascist Flags and Emblems Act, used their Special Powers Act, attacked the Civil Rights marches from 1968 onwards, oversaw Loyalist attacks on marchers, machine-gunned the Derry Bogside and were the cause of the barricades barring them from entry and the subsequent Battle of the Bogside, where colonial police fought side by side with Loyalist sectarian thugs (when they were not actually the one and the same). Only then did the British ruling class send in the Army but even then the repressive role of the colonial police did not end – they just shared it with the imperialist army.

Drew Harris served in that colonial police force for 21 years and led it for four. His father was in the RUC for 33 years and had reached the rank of Superintendent before he was killed by the IRA during the 30 Years War.

PSNI attacking sit-down peaceful protest objecting to Loyalist marches through the Garvaghy Road, Beflast in 2007. (Photo sourced: Internet)
PSNI raid on Republican centre in August 2020.
PSNI raid on Republican centre in August 2020 (Photo credit: Saoradh)

During that long war, intelligence played a major role on both sides and the MI5 and MI6 departments of British Intelligence were both active with RUC Special Branch there, with MI5 eventually gaining overall control. People who find it easy to disbelieve Gerry Adams’ claims that he was never in the IRA somehow find it reasonable to deny that Drew Harris is an MI5 asset. Actually, both claims are at least as likely to be true. And now he is head of the police force of the Irish neo-colonial State – nor would it be the first time British Intelligence has penetrated the upper echelons of the State’s police force. Ned Garvey, who was Garda Commissioner and formed the “Heavy Gang”, was exposed as a British agent; when they got back into government in 1975 Fianna Fáil sacked him but without exposing him publicly, which would have exposed also the Irish ruling class4.

Harris is long accustomed to handling and using intelligence collected by his agents in both police forces in Ireland from surveillance, touts, tapping phones, pressurising and blackmailing people, raids and searches etc. He would know very well that Socialists and Republicans have been to the forefront in opposition to the far-Right in Ireland. And that even those Socialists and Republicans who have not fought the Right actively have at least condemned them in print and spoken word.

Given all the history of socialists and republicans in Ireland, given the world history of fascists and their opposition by socialists, given also Drew Harris’ long policing background and the Gardaí’s knowledge of events over the years in Ireland in addition to their ongoing intelligence-gathering, what can be behind his extraordinary original statement and McEntees’s attempted justification? Preparation for the repression of the Socialists and Republicans, perhaps to assist in the imposition of austerity measures upon the working class? A planting of the seed in the public’s psyche to allow for restrictions on “both sides” — while in reality concentrating on the socialists and republicans?

One thing is for sure: Neither ignorance nor liberal confusion is behind this “mistake”.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1From now on I will be using this word to describe any or all of the various groups covered by the term: communists, trotskyists, anarchists, left social-democrats but not Irish Republicans, though some of them may be as committed to socialism as any of the others or even more so than some.

2“Violent disorder”, carrying a maximum jail penalty of 10 years, unlimited fine – or both! These are the first political demonstrators to be charged under that Act.

3She did and an individual has been charged.

4 And this in turn facilitated Garvey in suing for wrongful dismissal and to win damages

SOURCES & REFERENCES

Drew Harris original statement: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40235270.html?fbclid=IwAR14cmU5XLR6Y2oVLoFO08ldtQbfB8Tp_acTRtFaB0MgLt9_37dyMu5DRVE

16th November 2019, Left counterprotest Far-Right rally at Leinster House: https://www.onebigunion.ie/post/antifascists-moblise-against-hate-gathering-dublin?fbclid=IwAR1glf3uZvW5zblDyp-ktHzhlpakHV1OT6pjTYQtRdOHDGus35y8_iVXaKk

14 December 2019, outside Leinster House: https://www.thejournal.ie/rally-peace-4933697-Dec2019/

January 2019, Custom House Quay: https://www.thejournal.ie/yellow-vest-ireland-4440420-Jan2019/

11th July 2019, Far-Right homophobic rally and attack on tiny counter-protesting group (misreported by Belfast Telegraph): https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/republic-of-ireland/gardai-break-up-scuffles-between-protesters-in-dublin-39359650.html

February 1st 2020, outside Leinster House, “free speech” rally by Far-Rightists (against proposed ‘hate speech’ ban), opposed by Socialists and Republicans: https://headtopics.com/ie/rival-protesters-clash-at-d-il-rally-against-hate-speech-law-11036076

July 7th 2020, Croke Park, Far-Right and Fascist Islamophobic protest at opposed by Socialist and Republicans: https://the-beacon.ie/2020/07/31/tensions-at-croke-park-as-far-right-gathered-to-protest-against-eid-celebration/

August 8th 2020 clash with Far-Right marchers and picketers: https://www.bitchute.com/video/SKgyFkDsGLAB/

August 22nd 2020, Custom House Quay Irish Yellow Vest rally, armed fascist attack, hugely misreported by RTÉ: https://www.rte.ie/news/2020/0822/1160698-anti-lockdown-protest/

Much more accurate report: https://rebelbreeze.com/2020/08/31/there-will-be-another-day/

September 2020, Clubbing of LGTB campaigner and Garda collusion: https://the-beacon.ie/2020/09/14/editorial-the-far-right-descends-deeper-into-violence-as-the-gardai-and-media-look-on/

10th October 2020 clash outside Leinster House: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/hundreds-clash-in-violent-exchanges-at-dublin-protest-1.4377808

October 22nd 2020, Grafton Street: https://www.thejournal.ie/drew-harris-protests-5242880-Oct2020/

Garda tolerance of Far-Right protests (while also saying not favouring them!) while telling Debenham picketers to disperse: https://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/arid-31003703.html

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