Low turnout for protest against royals

THE first major protest against the visit of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II passed without incident yesterday as the biggest security operation in the history of the state intensified in advance of the royal arrival tomorrow.

Commuters at locations to be visited by the British monarch in Dublin, Cork, Kildare and Tipperary can expect a series of traffic and parking restrictions this week.

Parnell Square East in Dublin was closed off to vehicles and pedestrians yesterday as a security ring was put up around the Garden of Remembrance. The queen will visit the site tomorrow to lay a wreath in honour of all those who died fighting for Irish freedom.

The closure of the road prevented members of republican group Éirigí from going ahead with plans to establish a 48-hour “freedom camp” at the Garden of Remembrance.

However, about 100 supporters staged a demonstration at the end of O’Connell Street in front of barriers erected by gardaí.

Although the number of protesters was largely matched by journalists, TV crews and curious onlookers, Éirigí chairman Brian Leeson insisted the event was “not about numbers”.

“A lot of people don’t feel like coming out to protest until the queen is in the country. This is about making a political point and giving people the opportunity to add their voice for either the entire visit or elements of it to be cancelled,” Mr Leeson said.

In a speech to the small crowd, the Éirigí leader claimed the real purpose of the royal visit was to “concretise” Britain’s presence in the North and prepare the way for Ireland’s re-entry to the Commonwealth.

Mr Leeson claimed the scale of the security operation demonstrated how the arrival of Queen Elizabeth in Ireland could not be regarded as a normal visit.

“Elizabeth Windsor will be visiting two ghost cities,” he said.

“This is not what happened when the Prince of Monaco visited here a few weeks back or what will happen when President Obama will be here. It exposes the abnormality of the queen’s visit.”

The demonstration was overseen by dozens of gardaí as well as plainclothed Special Branch members. Representatives of the Garda’s Crime Scene Investigation division also filmed the protesters.

Following a reading of the 1916 Proclamation and a speech given by James Connolly protesting against the last visit to Ireland by a British monarch, George V in 1911, Fírinne, a group representing victims of the British authorities in the North, also voiced opposition to the royal visit.

A number of further protests are due to take place over the coming days, including another demonstration by Éirigí tomorrow on Moore Street at 1pm, while the Irish Anti War Movement will stage a protest outside the GPO on O’Connell St tomorrow at 6.30pm.

The state visit by Queen Elizabeth will begin tomorrow morning when she arrives at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, before travelling by car to Áras an Uachtaráin for an official ceremony. In the afternoon, the queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, will visit the Garden of Remembrance and Trinity College.

Meanwhile, relatives of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings have called on Queen Elizabeth to make a genuine gesture of reconciliation by urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to open files withheld by the British government into the deaths of 34 people in the bombings in May 1974.

The Justice for the Forgotten Group said such an act, which would coincide with the 37th anniversary of the bombings, would show a clear sign of improving relations between the two countries.

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