Gardaí have commenced a criminal investigation into the activities and the role played by far-right online agitators in the violence and riots last week.

The investigation is being led by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Detectives have also identified a number of posts seeking information on the home address of gardaí.

A team of detectives is examining online comments and speech to determine if it breaches the prohibition of the Incitement to Hatred Act.

It is an offence to produce and circulate threatening abusive or insulting text or recordings, if designed or likely to stir up hatred.

The offence carries a maximum penalty on indictment of two years and prison and/or a fine of up to €12,000.

At least five prominent and well-known far right online activists and conspiracy theorists are being investigated with detectives examining their online posts and recordings, tracing the graduated increase in threats and calls for violence from Thursday afternoon.

They are examining a timeline of online events and the escalation of abuse, threats and hate speech online from 1.30pm last Thursday, the time three children and their carer were attacked and stabbed outside the school on Parnell Square.

In the wake of the stabbings, online activity increased with misinformation and disinformation, anti-immigrant claims and threats, while hate speech widely circulated.

Flowers near to scene of where the children and their carer were attacked

There was a particular focus on the suspect's nationality, in spite of the fact that he came to Ireland over 20 years ago and is an Irish citizen.

One activist, who has also been seen in various protests around the city carrying a tricolour, claimed early on that the suspect was not Irish. This fuelled anti-immigrant hatred online which circulated widely.

Another prominent far-right social media activist put out a call for "a protest" at the Spire that evening which was also shared on X, formerly Twitter.

Others recirculated and boosted that call, while another prominent far-right activist who has engaged with Elon Musk online posted that he would be livestreaming from O'Connell Street that night.

The hatred and calls to violence increased from numerous Telegram and other online channels, as well as public and private WhatsApp and other groups, including from pro-violence accounts, one of which is called 'Kill all Immigrants".

Voice messages, videos and texts were widely circulated that included threats against journalists, public figures and politicians.

There were calls to march on the Taoiseach home which necessitated a Garda security response.

A number of gardaí involved in the investigation have also been targeted online with abuse, threats and hate speech.

"Senior gardaí investigating far-right activity online say most activists tend to hide online behind computers, laptops and mobile phones."

Posts have also been circulated from anonymous accounts with animal or other non identifiable avatars actively seeking the home addresses of individual members of the gardaí, including at least one senior Garda officer, who are involved in the criminal investigation into the far-right and the activities of known and prominent online activists.

All this material is now being collated and examined by gardaí with a view to determining if it meets the threshold for criminal prosecution.

The Garda Commissioner said the online investigation is one of three strands of inquiry into all the events since last Thursday, along with the separate investigation into the violence and riots, and the investigation into the stabbings.

A five-year-old girl remains in a critical condition in hospital, as does the children’s carer. Gardaí involved in the investigation have described the woman in her thirties as "a hero" because she put herself in harm's way to save the children and was stabbed several times as she covered and protected them from the man with the knife. The suspect also still remains in hospital.

The Garda Commissioner has described the far-right as "nebulous" and this investigation is unlike an investigation into a transnational organised crime gang which has an identifiable hierarchical structure with key figures at different levels.

Drew Harris also said that files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to two other incidents, the attack on a makeshift migrant camp at Sandwith Street in Dublin last May and the targeting of libraries by far-right activists last July.

The Commissioner said a number of people are expected to be charged and brought before the courts in connection with these incidents.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has described the far right as "nebulous"

Senior gardaí investigating far-right activity online say most activists tend to hide online behind computers, laptops and mobile phones.

However, they say when these people are arrested and brought before the courts, a notable decrease has been recorded in online hate speech because some of the most prominent actors have the oxygen of publicity taken away from them.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue which monitors hate speech online, has identified Telegram as one of the primary online platforms for Irish far-right groups, influencers and supporters involved in organising, calls to action and discussions in relation to violence.

There are at least 111 Telegram channels promoting misinformation and disinformation in Ireland.

The Institute defines the far-right as groups and individuals that support or endorse political or social belief systems that feature at least three of the following five features: nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy and strong state advocacy.

In it latest report ‘Uisce Faoi Talamh’ (an Irish phrase referencing conspiracy theories) published last week, the Institute found the ecosystem for this material is growing.

It also found evidence that online discussions containing misinformation and disinformation are fuelling offline hostility and violence.

Far-right figures, it said, play a crucial role in producing and promoting false, misleading and potentially harmful claims online in relation to a number of topics including immigration and Covid.