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The trials of Drew Harris

Now boys, now! We share your concerns

Garda commissioner Drew Harris signals state accommodation to the growing racist threat

J North

1 June 2023

Garda with protesters outside the International Protection Office in Dublin.

The response of Garda Commissioner and former deputy chief constable of the PSNI, Drew Harris, to the litany of attacks and protests against refugees drew a wry smile from veterans of the civil rights campaign in the North.

In a public statement Harris said that Gardaí “are not going to fall into the trap” of over-responding to far-right protests….“We are not going to fall into that trap. This is a long-term placing strategy. We are here to work with consent with local communities, to build a consent around the housing of individuals who have sought international protection".

“So, we are here for the long haul and we’re taking a long view of these matters. Confrontation, which in effect plays into their hands, is a trap that we’re not going into.”

The RUC avoided the trap of confronting loyalism for the whole of their existence - batons for the nationalists, pleading "now boys, now" (we understand your anger but leave it to the police). Community consent means that paramilitary flags can be flown at will to intimidate nationalists and refugees and the PSNI declare that this is not a matter for the police.  Loyalist gangs remain active in the North 25 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and at the moment are engaged in a bitter drugs feud with daily attacks on their opponents while the police stand aside and shake their heads.

Harris is the world master at police appeasement of loyalism. He was briefly found guilty of illegality in collaboration with loyalist flag protesters. He had argued that, because they had not filed for notification of marches, the parades legislation did not apply to them. (It was later ruled that he had operational independence to make that decision).

Some sections of the Dublin establishment chided Drew. He did not understand that in the Irish state the police did not openly decide political strategy.  He should await instructions from his masters.

However, the complaints can't really disguise that what Harris says is what the Gardaí will do and is what the political establishment want - to feed the flames of a racist backlash that will distract from their responsibility for the suffering of both refugees and the poor and homeless.

Drew Harris became an object of criticism when he spelt out this policy of appeasement towards anti refugee activists. However, it's not the case that the Gardaí need any advice from Harris about how to collaborate with the far right. They proved that, with a demonstration on the 13th of May in Dublin when they dispersed an antifascist group only to allow the right to return and burn the tents.

What is important is that this policy decision, alongside the more general political response, declares a wide degree of impunity for anti-refugee groups and will clearly lead to a growth in racism.

In the aftermath of attacks on homeless refugees in tents in Dublin and the blockade of a hotel in Inch, Co. Clare, every major political group, including Sinn Féin, have defined the problem as lack of consultation with residents. Apparently in Clare, no-one needed consultation when the local hotel was taking paying guests, but this becomes the main issue when refugees are involved.

The Gardaí stand back while the road is blocked and while the anti-refugee activists board buses to carry out a head count. A minister negotiates with the protestors, agreeing a halt to placements. The media stand well back and avoid face to face confrontation with the protestors or any attempt to identify them. The Taoiseach focuses on "local concerns" which, he says, are legitimate.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the protests reflected "a real frustration and anger with the Government", because of their lack of consultation.

The victims of the protests are living in tents because the government is openly flouting both domestic and international law. One government spokesperson suggested that some of them might be fitted into spare places in the Ukrainian settlement programme.

Many people don't realise that there is a two-tier system in Ireland. Those from the middle East, Asia and Africa are admitted in very small numbers and treated badly when they arrive. In contrast over 70,000 Ukrainians have arrived, are allowed to work and have their educational qualifications recognised.

Why not a single system? Shouldn't all the refugees be treated equally? The fact is that the Irish government is not housing Ukrainians refugees because of its sympathy for human rights. In essence they are NATOgees, part of Irish support for the war, an effort that has seen a doubling of the military budget and substantial resources allocated to the Ukrainian war effort.

In relation to the housing crisis an obvious solution would be to end the war and allow the refugees to return home. Instead, the government is getting more and more directly involved in military support for the Zelensky regime as part of its official role in European military cooperation and its slightly stealthier collaboration with NATO. The major parties and media are filled with pro-war frenzy.

For years the government have told workers there is no accommodation. Rents and mortgages go through the roof, landlordism triumphs over tenants’ rights and more and more people find themselves on the streets. The fact that the government can find accommodation for over 70,000 means that the government was lying to the population when it said there was no room for the homeless and had no real interest in resolving the housing crisis. This adds to anger and desperation and, in the absence of a left response, creates a breeding ground for the racists.

So how is the left performing? The denial of tenant rights led to little in the way of response and most of that is confined to the Dáil. In February tens of thousands marched behind trade unions and NGOS, welcoming diversity and proclaiming; Refugees are welcome here!

Now we have the racists, accommodated by the state, saying that refugees are not welcome here. It turns out that there was little behind the February demonstration besides virtue signalling. ICTU, having helped to organise the mass march, contented themselves with a call on government to provide emergency accommodation, pleas to the government are not going to work in dealing with the upsurge of the right.

Socialists must propose a solution to the housing crisis that isn't contained within landlordism and sponsorship of private capital. They must demand public housing for all as the only way to meet the needs of the workers. In response to the racists, rather than babble about diversity and inclusion, we demand the unity of all workers wherever they were born as the only method of effective defence.

The privations of Irish workers aren't caused by refugees, they are caused by exploitation from transnational finance capital and by the quisling government that supports it.

The racists are their henchmen, dividing us and sabotaging the urgent need for unity and resistance.

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