Health Minister Mary Harney tonight branded a protest unlawful after red paint was poured over her by an angry councillor.
Ms Harney condemned the actions of elected politician Louise Minihan as not legitimate and an unacceptable form of protest against budget cuts.
The TD was splattered across her neck, hands and clothes as she began the turning-of-the-sod at a new mental health facility in west Dublin.
Despite the paint attack, Ms Harney continued to mark the start of work at the new Ballyfermot Primary Care and Mental Health Centre, next to Cherry Orchard Hospital.
“I find that very intriguing that somebody who’s an elected politician representing the people would be involved in a protest that I believe, and so many other people believe, is not legitimate,” the minister later said.
Ms Minihan, a Dublin City councillor with left-wing republican group Eirigi, was arrested by gardaí on suspicion of assault and questioned at Ballyfermot garda station for around an hour. A file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
She later attempted to defend her actions – stating she poured diluted red paint over the Minister to symbolise the blood Government had on its hands.
“In one month’s time the Government will introduce what can only be described as a blood budget,” said Ms Minihan.
“The cutbacks in healthcare that will be contained in that budget will result in the unnecessary and avoidable deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the coming years.”
About 20 protesters had been locked outside the gates of the site when Ms Harney arrived – with councillor Minihan among the local representatives who greeted the Minister inside.
The peaceful picket had been staged by the Save Cherry Orchard Hospital Campaign, a respite care and full-time beds unit for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients which recently lost a 22-bed ward.
The new build next door will include a GP and a range of therapy, mental health and addiction services.
Ms Harney said Ms Minihan simply poured the paint over her.
She continued: “We see protests all the time and in every democracy protest is legitimate and it’s important people advocate in different ways – they can picket, they can make their voice heard. But I think an incident like this, I do not believe, is what the vast majority of the people of Ireland would support.”
The Minister said any legal action against Ms Minihan would be a matter for An Garda Siochana.
“The law takes its own course in the sovereign. It’s something I shouldn’t interfere with, nor would I, nor would I want to do so,” she told RTE Radio.
Dublin Lord Mayor Gerry Breen criticised the actions of his fellow councillor.
“Such behaviour would not be acceptable from anyone. It cannot be justified on any grounds,” he said.
“However, the fact that the attack was undertaken by an elected representative of Dublin City Council at an official function makes it all the more serious.
“This woman is in a position of leadership in her community but her action this morning was the very antithesis of what leadership is about.”
However Councillor Brid Smith, who organised the protest, claimed hundreds of thousands of people across the country would support Ms Minihan’s sentiments.
“Mary Harney was clearly shocked and stunned,” said Ms Smith, of People Before Profit. “Her hair, neck, clothes and hands were covered in red paint.
“Louise was telling her she was attacking the most vulnerable in healthcare. Fair play to her. It was a very dramatic moment.”