By Cillian Sherlock, PA
The Minister for Justice has said he is “genuinely worried” about the far right following recent anti-migrant protests across the country.
Speaking to The Tonight Show on Virgin Media Television, Simon Harris said: “There is a relatively small number – we shouldn’t overstate it because it is a small number – of what I call bad actors who are travelling around the country, who are in some cases involved in criminality and are stoking up fear.
“I worry what they’re doing is exploiting local residents who can actually have concerns and questions, which is perfectly legitimate and I worry that starts to get mixed.”
He said he wanted to appeal to members of the public not to “fall for the playbook of the far right”.
Mr Harris said he was confident that gardaí were monitoring this.
However, he added that there was a “trap” that the far right wanted “the visuals” of gardai breaking up a protest to feed what he believes is their propaganda.
He described actions such as the “hijacking of the Irish flag”, the burning of tents, and attempts to block access to migrant accommodation as “abhorrent”.
Mr Harris said there had been 11 arrests in Dublin so far in relation to anti-immigration protests.
He also said “blockades” are not a form of acceptable protest.
He added: “The idea of blockading cannot become, seen in any way, shape or form, as a new form of acceptable protest.
“It isn’t. You do have a right to protest in this country but you don’t have a right to continue to obstruct, continue to impede, intimidate or endanger.
“I do think there’s a very fine line and I do think on some occasions that line has been crossed.”
Asked why a recent blockade of migrant accommodation in Co Clare was not stopped by gardai, Mr Harris said it “needs to be reflected on”.
He said: “That’s not a criticism, by the way, of operational decisions that were made by the gardaí in good faith and I trust the commissioner and trust his judgment but we can’t have a scenario where this becomes the new norm.”
He said gardaí were keeping all operations under review.
The minister said Government needed to do more in communicating with communities that were accommodating international protection applicants.
Asked if the asylum system was fit for purpose, Mr Harris said he was happy with progress being made.
He said arrivals to Ireland from a country deemed to be of safe origin will get their interview date on the day they will arrive and that the interview will be within two weeks with a decision within three months.
He said that a year and a half ago that this process took 17 months.
He added: “We’re back using deportation orders and I don’t say this to be a crackdown on migration, I say this to fill the vacuum that the far right wished for there to exist.
“So there’s a rules-based system here. If you’ve a right to stay, you get that right quicker.
“If you don’t have a right to stay, you get asked to leave quicker.”
Mr Harris said this year there had been 175 fines for airlines for people who have gotten on flights without documents, adding that gardai are based abroad working with these companies.
He also said there was almost 100 additional staff in the International Protection Office since December, but added it needed to get to more than 450 by 2024.