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Industry focus

I Predict a Riot

How Dublin, Once a Beacon of Welcome, Became a Symbol of Wider Crime and Disorder Trends Impacting Our Towns and Cities

The English indie rock band Kaiser Chiefs’ anthem I predict a riot about the sense of unease, lawlessness, and proclivity towards violence and aggression felt on the streets of a provincial town has arguably more resonance today than it did at the time of its release as a signature track on their 2005 debut album Employment.

Although a seemingly trite pop song, the darker sentiment was captured by band drummer Nick Hodgson when a nightclub owner where he used to DJ used the term to describe the ugly mood of the crowd outside his establishment—the rowdiness of which had been stoked into a sense of growing hostility where there was a need to relieve building tensions.

Ireland

Many of the old scores being settled had little or nothing to do with the venue in question, albeit it’s always the hospitality and retail sectors that bear the full force of the cathartic explosion of anger as witnessed in the streets of Dublin in November 2023. 

Prior to the riot which resulted in millions of Euros worth of damage, many retailers and hospitality businesses were already feeling under siege, particularly in the satellite centres around Dublin such as Blanchardstown where store staff were having to be escorted to safe bus stops by colleagues after late shifts because of fear of violence, aggression, and almost endemic anti-social behaviour.

In the immediate weeks before the riot, emergency talks were being held between An Garda Síochána and the retail community for greater crime enforcement support around such centres. These discussions were still ongoing at the time of the November 2023 meltdown which engulfed the Irish Capital and saw vehicles and trams set alight as well as thirteen retail stores feeling the full force of the riotous crowd’s wrath. These included flagship department store Arnotts in Henry Street which was preparing itself for Black Friday and Cyber Monday trading.

Although €20 million was the estimated cost of the clean-up, the loss of sales by major retailers over that period caused by a reduction in customer confidence is less easy to calculate. JD Sports and Foot Locker in Henry Street also fell victim to looters triggered by an unrelated stabbing in nearby Parnell Square.

Arnotts had been due to stay open later during this autumn period to take advantage of the early Christmas shoppers, but the unwanted attention of looters meant that it closed early on the subsequent days after re-opening to protect staff and customers.

RTE News reported that an estimated €100m was forecast to be spent by shoppers in the capital during that period alone, but Black Friday sales in Dublin were seriously curtailed, due to people making the decision to avoid Dublin city centre that day despite a “significant” An Garda Síochána presence.

Officers were drafted in from across the Republic of Ireland and included two Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) water cannon vehicles being sent across the border, following a request from Irish police.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of small and medium business representative group ISME, said sales represented 20-25 per cent of their annual business in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and that business groups who met with Minister Neale Richmond at the Retail Forum told him of how fearful staff feel at work.

“They are subject to abuse, including racist abuse by people who don’t feel any need to comply with the law,” said Neale.

This latter point crystallises much of the issue where commentators across the Republic of Ireland, including retail victims, sensed that something fundamental had shifted in the nation’s psyche and that there was a pervasive view around a collective loss of respect for law and order, and that for the perpetrators there was little in the way of consequences for everything from organised to opportunistic crime.

Financial Crash

Back in 2005 at the time of Kaiser Chiefs penning I predict a riot, there were socio-economic tensions, but this was an almost innocent era before the 2007 financial crash that heralded in the period of global austerity which impacted the Irish economy acutely, even more so than the UK which had already responded with austerity measures and 20 per cent resource cuts impacting frontline law enforcement and what became known as the “the thin blue line”.

In Ireland, which had previously held the position as a poster boy for prosperity under the guise of the “Celtic Tiger”, the impact saw the steep decline of the economy, with Government finances beginning to show signs of impending recession by the end of 2007 when tax revenues fell short by €2.3 billion (5 per cent). This in turn triggered a slump in the Irish Stock Market, followed by a deep recession that closed many businesses, increased unemployment, and resulted in many immigrant workers returning home, although Dublin still remains one of Europe’s most diverse cities, an issue that triggered the recent riot.

Ireland’s demography has been transformed in recent decades as a booming economy reversed the historical flow of immigration. A fifth of the five million people now living in Ireland were born elsewhere. A recent increase in refugees from Ukraine and other countries has however fuelled a backlash amid concern over a housing shortage and straining public services. The number housed by the state jumped from 7,500 in 2021 to 73,000 in 2022.

Ireland’s ongoing woes saw an increase in crime, with Dublin being cited by many pan-European retailers as the worst centre for shrinkage outside of larger major UK cites including London, Manchester, and Birmingham. It comes at a time when recruitment and retention of An Garda Síochána officers and security personnel has been at its most challenging, fuelled in part by high wage inflation and byzantine tax regulations that seriously impacted the pensions of senior investigating officers. 

This also contributed to the smouldering tensions that erupted in Dublin city centre in late November as the city’s own thin blue line was tested to the maximum. 

Indeed, there was nothing subtle about the targeting of police. Bottles, bricks, fireworks, and other missiles rained down on officers, many of whom lacked helmets and shields. The crowd cornered and attacked isolated officers, leaving several injured. Eleven police vehicles were damaged.

What was ostensibly a social-media induced storm over immigration triggered by the stabbing of three children and a school care assistant outside a primary school in north Dublin was in fact a smoke screen—literally—for festering criminality as the law enforcement community struggled to take back control of the streets from a so-called “lawless mob” intent on disruption and destruction. 

The normal rules of engagement and policing by consent were, along with control of the streets, temporarily suspended in what became a post-COVID apocalyptic few hours where those gangs who many retailers recognised as the persistent and prolific offenders that cause trouble daily in their stores let rip on the back of what was originally seen as political grandstanding around the sanctity of Ireland’s borders.

Ireland, which is known as the migration and immigration capital of the world had somehow lost its spirit of international entente cordiale, as those in the crowd uttered the ugly refrain “to make Ireland safe, wreck the capital.”

According to reports in the Irish Independent, “It’s not right but it had to be done. The Government is not listening”, said one man in his 20s, a bystander rather than a looter. 

“This isn’t against foreigners. We were the first emigrants. Immigrants are driving our buses, cleaning our hospitals—we need them—but they need to be vetted.”

Ireland’s police chief Drew Harris blamed the rioting on a “lunatic, hooligan faction driven by a far-right ideology”.

He said that “the extraordinary outbreak of violence had come after hateful assumptions were made based on material circulating online in the wake of the stabbings”.

This included false claims that the attacker was a foreign national when in fact the man suspected of carrying out the attack was an Irish citizen who had lived in the country for twenty years, while the bystander who tackled him in the wake of the attack, putting his own life in danger, was Brazilian.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said police in Dublin needed more support which led to outside officers supporting the city’s police teams.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she has no confidence in Commissioner Harris or Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

She said the “cold, hard truth” was that police “lost control of the centre of our capital city”.

“The idea that this violence was unforeseeable is frankly nonsense,” 

she added. Helen McEntee said she would not be resigning and criticised those calling for Commissioner Harris to resign. 

“Anyone who wishes to sow division at a moment in time when we need to be unified in our response to a group of thugs—they should really think about what their priorities are here,” she said.

This commentary was passed over by much of the press but was electrified on social media. One of those who amplified it most viscerally was the mixed martial artist Conor McGregor who continued to post animated tweets about crime and the failures of Irish immigration policy even as the riots took hold. 

Social Media

The only move left is increased Irish Government interference in social media, public conversation, and a revival of the delayed hate speech laws which have already been implemented in the UK in light of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who branded those involved in the riot and its incitement as “shaming Ireland”, has already signalled intent on the latter and the adoption of the provision of the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) requiring tech companies to monitor content on social media platforms. 

The DSA was used to trigger an alert to the European Commission to compel major online platforms to remove violent imagery and prevent incitement of hate and violence online following the riots. On 5 December 2023, the Digital Services Bill 2023 was published, which gives effect to the DSA in Ireland.

The reliance on the DSA following the riots highlighted the importance of the legislation, as European and Irish officials met with large tech platforms headquartered in Dublin to obtain information on the ways in which these firms responded to the circulation of harmful material during the riots. These meetings also allowed for information on how large platforms responded to be collected and the next steps platforms took to stop the spread of harmful material. 

The DSA was adopted into law on 16 November 2022, altering the liability framework for online intermediaries operating in the EU. From 17 February 2024, the DSA has been able to apply fully within EU Member States. The legislation stiffens requirements around how media services, broadcast and online, manage illegal and harmful content published, and how goods and services sold are in accordance with Ireland’s Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022 (“OSMR”).

Commercial litigation expert Sarah Twohig of Pinsent Masons said: “It is envisaged that the Commission, DSC, and the European Commission will all work “hand in glove” to ensure co-ordinated enforcement regarding online safety in Ireland.”

“Ireland is expected to have a leading role in enforcing the DSA given the number of large tech companies which have their European headquarters within the country. Therefore, decisions of the Commission, from a DSA perspective, will influence how the DSA is implemented by designated authorities in other EU member states,” Sarah continued.   

Lessons for the UK

Post-Brexit, the UK Government will also be watching the implementation of this legislation following a rise in anti-social behaviour and incidents of violence and aggression in the wake of social media-fuelled shoplifting sprees in major centres last year, where looting and mayhem were widely organised on TikTok. 

One event in August involved the Metropolitan Police using dispersal orders on London’s Oxford Street when steaming gangs turned up en masse to take part in organised store robberies.

Further escalating incidents involved threat of chaos at nine specified locations which was viewed thousands of times by people on the social media platform and flagged to retailers in advance by the Met.

According to intelligence, these examples of brazen theft involving the encouragement of gangs and individuals to take part in organised shoplifting sprees, were widely believed to be imported trends from the US and they bear all of the hallmarks of that wider societal sense of low risk, high reward activity and a growing confidence that there are few consequences for those taking part in this form of flash mob shoplifting organised on social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat.

Intelligence highlighted in populist newspapers suggest such trends could become more widespread in Britain after huge groups of youths gathered on Oxford Street during the summer of 2023 after posts circulated online which urged users to rob JD Sports under the tag “Oxford Circus JD Robbery”.

Dramatic footage showed chaos erupt on Europe’s busiest shopping street, with youngsters clashing with police, with some being pinned to the floor or against walls.

One such event orchestrator openly goes by the account name “mizzywayoutsideinthedist” and is linked to a number of incitement incidents.

The eighteen-year-old appeared in court charged with three breaches of a criminal behaviour order (CBO) relating to the posting of prank videos on social media, but his case was adjourned because he has been accused of engaging in further “criminal activities”.

One social media alert flagged to the Metropolitan Police by MailOnline, says: “This is just a little message to all the Southeast London mandem shopping centers. We are going to be rioting these shopping centers. Start date is on the 4th of September till the 8th of September”, a post that was viewed by 1,124 people.

One shop owner in an area highlighted in the post said: “We’re very worried. It’s mad. We just want to get on with our lives without these threats. It’s terrible for business. It’s scary.”

Another said: “It’s a nightmare. It has to be taken seriously because of the scenes on Oxford Street and how easily this sort of thing can get out of control. We have enough problems without these idiots on TikTok spreading fear.”

Bexleyheath in north Kent, another targeted area was placed on lockdown following similar posts, with store owners warned to shut up shop if mass brawls broke out.

The area was placed under a forty-eight-hour dispersal order following “social media speculation”, the force said, as it vowed to ramp up police presence to deal with the antics planned for the weekend.

MailOnline also revealed how some incidents had been promoted by an award-winning schoolboy from a respectable home.

The fifteen-year-old—who cannot be named for legal reasons—goes to a well-regarded school in Essex where he has received awards for prowess in sport.

His mother posted on his last birthday how proud she is of him, writing: “When you were little, I was your hero, but now you have become mine. I can’t believe how much you have grown in the past few years. You have become an intelligent, strong, and courageous young man that I look at with pride”.

He has been pictured looking a smart and respectable schoolboy wearing a blazer, who takes part in martial arts competitions, but he has been living a secret second life on TikTok, where he had more than 10,000 followers before the account was pulled.

He was seen in the area interviewing teens on camera.  Wearing colourful shorts, a vest, rucksack, and trainers he held a microphone while interviewing other teens on camera, some who appeared to be as young as thirteen, and hyped up what was expected to happen at the meeting that had been organised on the controversial social media platform.

Widespread access to social media has undoubtedly played a major role in the ability of criminals to mobilise criminal behaviour in and around our cities, examples of which have been demonstrated in capitals such as Dublin and London where police intelligence is working to better understand and accurately “predict a riot”. 

However, from the impacts of Covid to the cost-of-living crisis, retail businesses are also accurate barometers of the undercurrents and mood music on the high street and have for months, if not years, warned of the need not only for better support against industrial levels of theft, but for the issue to be taken seriously throughout the criminal justice system—from police response to the recognition of the impact of often violent assaults against colleagues and how that is reflected in sentencing protocols. 

Unlike the politicians, they are not surprised by the visceral displays of aggression in cities like Dublin and London—they have been warning against it for many years. They instead argue that it is already too late when you are predicting a riot; the greater need is for arresting the clear and underlying causes that have been allowed to simply fester and ultimately explode onto the streets.

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