Ireland’s deputy leader Micheal Martin has criticised Sinn Fein’s response to the riots in Dublin last week as a “knee-jerk” attempt to “go for the political jugular”.

Sinn Fein, the main opposition party in the Irish parliament, has called for Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to resign.

Mr Martin said he has “absolute” confidence in Ms McEntee and “regretted” Sinn Fein’s calls for her resignation.

The Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader said he has a “longstanding” position of not calling for the resignation of a Garda Commissioner, calling it “a slippery slope”.

“You stand by the leadership of An Garda Siochana, you deal with the issues,” he said. “Because once politicians get into the operation and area of policing, then we are in trouble.”

“The most fundamental takeaway from my perspective is the rapid mobilisation of so many people via social media platforms which culminated in rioting, and also the significant articulation of hate towards foreigners, essentially, if you read some of the messaging on social media.

“And then the looting and so on, so we have to respond to that,” he said, speaking on Tuesday at the end of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference at Dublin’s Farmleigh House.

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
Tanaiste Micheal Martin arrives at Farmleigh House, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Martin said he was also concerned with attacks on gardai and workers during the disorder in the capital on Thursday night, saying it represented an assault on “institutions of the state”.

He said: “Because if you loot a shop, if you attack shopkeepers, you’re attacking workers. If you stop buses, you’re attacking bus drivers. If you attack gardai, you’re attacking your friends, your family, your community.”

Mr Martin admitted there are “issues” that arose from the riots, which saw vehicles and bins set alight and shops raided and damaged.

But he said Sinn Fein has tried to “exploit” them.

“I think Irish politics, and the significant divide in Irish politics, is very evident. It’s divided between those who want to sort out problems and resolve issues and those who want to exploit them,” he said.

“I’ve observed Sinn Fein now for the last four to five years. It is, without question, a party that seeks to exploit every issue that arises as opposed to coming forward with constructive ideas as to how to resolve them.

“And, in fact, if you go back over all of the various stances they have taken on a whole variety of issues, you see incoherence and inconsistency.

“Most recently, in the context of the Middle East, we saw it again, seeking to exploit what is a horrendous conflict bringing devastation and death to thousands of people.

“Sinn Fein’s focus has been, ‘How do we drive a wedge between Government and opposition on this issue? How do we exploit it with a view to try to gain electoral advantage?’”