Gardaí have said they are seriously concerned about the increase in arson attacks on properties linked to accommodating people seeking international protection and are worried about the potential for a “copycat” effect.
Three properties in Dublin, Co Longford and Co Tipperary have been attacked and set on fire so far this month, with 15 targeted in the last year, a number of which were not and never intended to be used to accommodate International Protection Applicants.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she is confident the perpetrators will be brought to justice, but so far no one has been prosecuted and no arrests have been made for arson attacks on any of the buildings.
Gardaí said they believe the attacks are not centrally orchestrated or organised, but carried out separately by disgruntled individuals and groups of local people.
They also said that while the majority of public protests are peaceful, they are also aware that people attending are being used by a small minority with extreme and potentially criminal intent to spread disinformation and fake news.
Arson attacks on properties linked to migrants, homeless people and those seeking international protection first came to public prominence six years ago in Co Donegal when the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville was burned out in the early hours of 25 November 2018. It was set to become a direct provision centre for 100 people.
The following year the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border was burned out, followed by an arson attack on an apartment complex in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, which had been due to accommodate asylum seekers.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw a lull in these attacks, but they began again in late 2022 when the Kill Equestrian Centre in Co Kildare, which had been proposed as a location for Ukrainian refugees, was set on fire. There had also been protests outside the building.
However, there has been a significant escalation in these arson attacks in the last 13 months with some of the attacks rooted in disinformation.
Rawlton House on Sherrard Street in Dublin was burned out in January last year following false claims online that it was to be used as a direct provision centre.
Four months later in May, tents belonging to homeless international protection applicants at a makeshift camp on Sandwith Street in Dublin were set on fire following anti-immigrant demonstrations.
There were also two more arson attacks linked to anti-immigrant sentiment that month in Buncrana in Co Donegal followed by an attack in July on a former gaelscoil in Ballincollig in Co Cork and at Ridge Hall in Ballybrack in Dublin in August.
There were three suspected anti-immigrant arson attacks in Dublin during the riots in the capital on 23 November.
A petrol bomb was thrown into a premises in Finglas and the Holiday Inn Hotel in Dublin was also attacked because of false claims of links to migrants, while four men wearing balaclavas and carrying petrol burned out an IPAs building in Sherrard Street at around 5pm.
In the early hours of New Year’s Eve, the old Shipwright pub in Ringsend was burnt out in a suspected arson attack. It was earmarked to house 14 homeless families.
So far this year there have been three arson attacks on properties in Dublin, Longford and Tipperary.
A former school in Fethard, Co Tipperary, and a former guesthouse on the Sandyford Road in Dublin, were burned out after claims spread online that the buildings were to be used to accommodate asylum seekers.
Following the attack on the former Sisters of Mercy Convent on the Main Street in Lanesboro three days ago, the owner of the building withdrew from the process to house Ukrainians.
It had been earmarked to accommodate 85 Ukrainian refugees in May.
Gardaí said that they believe these attacks are carried out by local individuals or groups.
They said that while they are aware of possible misinformation, disinformation and rumour in relation to the use of vacant properties, they have no evidence of a centralised, orchestrated and organised campaign of arson attacks.
At least five of the buildings set on fire in Ballybrack, Finglas, Ringsend and Sandyford Road and Fethard had not or never had been considered for international protection accommodation.
Minister McEntee said there were over 700 protests last year and that while the vast majority were peaceful, that has changed in recent weeks.
She said: “We have seen an escalation in aggression, we’ve seen an escalation of violence, we have seen significant acts of vandalism and arson.
“And I think it’s appropriate that gardaí respond in the way that they feel is appropriate.”
Ms McEntee added that she was confident the perpetrators of the arson attacks would be brought to justice, but so far there have been no arrests and no prosecutions in relation to the attacks on the buildings.
Gardaí said in a statement last night that criminal investigations into a large number of different, potentially criminal, incidents are ongoing.
These include arson attacks on buildings as well as incidents at public gatherings and potential harassment at public facilities, such as libraries, and online incitement.
All of the the arson investigations are being led by senior investigating officers.
Arson, or criminal damage by fire, is a very serious offence, carrying a penalty, following conviction on indictment, of up to life imprisonment.
Garda Headquarters said it is not in a position to provide detailed updates on every investigation, but points out there have been searches in respect of the Ross Lake Hotel attack in Co Galway and arrests have taken place in connection with the Sandwith Street investigation.
It also said that over 50 people were arrested last year in relation to suspected illegal activity at anti-migrant protests in Dublin alone and that prosecution files in respect of a number of the incidents are at either an advanced stage of preparation or have been submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
A total of 38 people have been arrested in connection with the riots in Dublin city centre last November and further arrests are expected.
Commissioner Drew Harris has highlighted the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic and international events in Ukraine and the Middle East have had on the proliferation of extreme views, garda headquarters said.
It said Mr Harris has further highlighted the role of social media in giving a platform for extreme voices and opinions and that these are now issues which were not on the radar up until recent years.
An Garda Síochána said it is acutely aware that the majority of public gatherings and persons attending them are peaceful and their intent is peaceful, but that they are also aware that such gatherings, and in effect those persons attending them, are used by a small minority with extreme and potentially criminal and dangerous intent to spread misinformation, disinformation and fake news.
An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to any person who may have any information on any criminal activity, including arson attacks, to contact their local garda station or the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111.