'People arrived intent on violence': Commissioner expects more arrests after Gardaí injured during protest

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said that garda officers were “very lucky” they were not seriously injured when a firework was fired directly at them.
'People arrived intent on violence': Commissioner expects more arrests after Gardaí injured during protest

Protesters clash with gardaí outside St Stephen's Green.

Gardaí have arrested 23 people after clashes broke out in Dublin as several hundred people gathered in the city centre for an anti-lockdown event on Saturday afternoon.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he expects more arrests to be made.

A dense crowd filled South King Street from end to end. Hundreds of people who were not wearing face masks marched through the city centre and attempted to make their way to St Stephen’s Green park.

Protesters were prevented from gathering in the park after the Office of Public Works closed the gates to the public.

Gardaí used batons as they pushed protesters down Grafton Street, while fireworks, cans, and bollards have been thrown at gardaí.

Three Gardaí were injured during the incident and one has been hospitalised.

Videos of the incident have been widely shared on social media.

Of the 23 people arrested, 13 - 12 men and one woman - have appeared before the Criminal Court and have been remanded in custody to appear before Cloverhill District Court at a later date.

Those charges include threatening or abusive words or behaviour, failing to comply with a direction from Gardaí, resisting arrest and failing to provide the correct name and address to officers.

Seven of those arrested were charged with offences and released on bail while three juveniles have been released for consideration of inclusion in the Juvenile Diversion Programme.

Speaking this evening Drew Harris said there would be a full investigation into the events.

“Very regrettably, people arrived intent on violence. They engaged in attacks on members of An Garda Síochána including the throwing of a firework type device," said Mr Harris.

Anti-lockdown protesters clash with gardaí outside St Stephen's Green. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
Anti-lockdown protesters clash with gardaí outside St Stephen's Green. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

“There were some 23 arrests that we have made already and those arrests are continuing. This operation is not over as we pursue individuals who engage in protest and illegal activity.

“They had no reasonable grounds for being there in the first place so we will pursue particularly those who formed a very hard core to deal with.

“You don’t carry a firework to a protest with any other purpose than to engage in violent conduct. We will follow through with an investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.” 

Mr Harris said they were aware that momentum had been gathering on social media in the lead-up to Saturday’s protest.

Mr Harris also said that garda officers were “very lucky” they were not seriously injured when a firework was fired directly at them.

“It was directed at that individual and so we are fortunate they didn’t suffer a serious injury, it was only the individual’s quick thinking that saved him,” Mr Harris said.

“We will follow through with a serious crime investigation into that incident.” 

Mr Harris said the demonstrators was a collaboration of groups made up of anti-lockdown protesters, anti-vaccine and anti-facemasks.

“This was groups working in concert together, as a mob,” he added.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin condemned the protest saying it posed an unacceptable risk to both the public and Gardaí.

"The large gathering, in the face of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, showed a complete lack of respect to the people who have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic.

"Nor can we tolerate the thuggish behaviour or attacks on gardaí, who have the public’s utmost respect as they continue to protect and serve our society in difficult circumstances.

There can be no justification for the march or the violence that unfolded, and I pay tribute to members of An Garda Síochána who moved quickly to make arrests and restore order.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Garda Commissioner has told her the disturbance is being brought under control.

MS McEntee said fixed charge notices has been issued to a number of people and a special court sitting is being arranged for those arrested during this afternoon's incident.

"I want to commend the courage and professionalism of the Gardaí on duty ... in Dublin who responded with great control and discipline in an extremely challenging situation.

"This situation was completely unacceptable and was an insult to so many who have worked so hard in the fight against Covid-19 and to those who have died.

"This mindless thuggery showed a wilful and blatant disregard for the public health rules which are needed to help us all and keep us safe."

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors says scenes at protests in Dublin show a blatant disregard for members of An Garda Síochána.

General Secretary, Antoinette Cunningham says seeing missiles being deliberately directed at unarmed members is truly shocking.

Ms Cunningham said events show the very dangerous element that policing this part of Covid-19 has for members.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was "horrified" to see protesters clash with police on the streets of Dublin during an anti-lockdown protest.

Mr Varadkar tweeted: "Irish people have spent last year fighting Covid. There is no excuse for violence to gardaí or anyone.

"This behaviour on Grafton St by a selfish few undermines sacrifices that millions have made in the last 12 months."

Simon Harris called the scenes on Grafton Street sickening and shameful.

"Pure thuggery on the streets of Dublin... It's not a 'protest'. It's an attack on our national effort," the Minister for Further and Higher Education said.

"The abuse directed at the Gardaí is sickening and shameful. Disgraceful. Thoughts with the Gardaí and their families."

Gardaí confronted by protesters at St Stephen's Green.
Gardaí confronted by protesters at St Stephen's Green.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond also slammed the violent scenes.

“From the outset, this protest was ill-advised, fuelled by conspiracy theories and championed by individuals seeking to manipulate the genuine fears of many vulnerable individuals,” he said.

“It was disgraceful to see this protest descend into violent scenes with brave members of An Garda Síochána subjected to intolerable physical and verbal abuse.

“Some of the eye witness footage circulating is extremely disturbing and every public representative should condemn these awful scenes.

“The footage appears to show a lit firework being thrown at members of the gardaí by one protester, which is truly shameful.

“These brave men and women risk their lives every day in the service of the people of our State and what they were subjected to ... is utterly appalling.” 

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said: “A number of traffic diversions and other policing measures are currently in place in Dublin this afternoon, Saturday 27th February 2021 in response to a demonstration in the city centre area.

“A policing plan has been implemented and An Garda Síochána will provide a full update when this operation has concluded.”

Luas trams are also skipping the stop there this afternoon.

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