Ireland must not to descend into "mob rule" motivated by "racist undertones" after a 200-strong protest forced three Roma families in Waterford to flee their homes over alleged crime issues in the city.
Equality and New Communities Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin issued the plea after the incident occurred in the south-east of the country at the weekend.
During a four-hour protest at Manor Street in Waterford City between 5pm and 9pm on Saturday, a 200-strong rally hurled abuse outside the homes of three Roma families consisting of more than 30 adults and children.
While the protest, which was organised by Facebook page ‘Get Them Out Of Town’ which has since been taken down and replaced with another page, was meant to oppose alleged crime activity in the area, it soon became violent itself, with protesters smashing windows and breaking down one door.
The Garda armed response unit ultimately had to be called to calm the scene and escort the Roma families to safety, with one man in his 20s involved in the rally being arrested before released without charge. A second smaller protest, which targeted the same families, also took place on Sunday night.
Equality and New Communities Minister Mr Ó Ríordáin said while he understood concerns over alleged criminal activity, what happened had “more than an undertone of racism”. Insisting Ireland was not the type of country to resort to “mob rule”, he said it was unacceptable to “brand” an entire ethnic group for wider issues — and urged people not to take matters into their own hands. “I’ve looked at the Facebook page involved and there is more than an undertone of racism there. If people have concerns, they should go to the gardaí.
“We don’t, and can’t, live in a country run by vigilantes. There are children in these families and these are not the scenes you want to see.
“If there are accusations or if there is information [about alleged crime] then it should be brought to authorities.
“What happened at the weekend had a nasty undertone to it, there was a branding of an entire community. It was mob rule, and I can’t help but notice this only happens to people and groups out on the margins of society,” he said.
Pavee Point, which represents the Travelling and Roma communities, condemned the incident just as forcefully.
“Anti-Roma racism does not occur in a vacuum and we now need strong public and political leaders to be visible, vocal and openly condemn actions in Waterford,” said Siobhan Curran, adding that solicitor Gareth Noble was now representing the families involved.
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