'Extreme left' cited in protest as republicans were observed, says garda commissioner

Commissioner Harris said despite initial indications, following further investigation, there is no corroborated evidence of extreme left factions being involved
'Extreme left' cited in protest as republicans were observed, says garda commissioner

Gardaí are forced to draw batons as a lockdown protest tried to break through barriers at St Stephen's Green, Dublin. Fireworks and bottles where thrown up Grafton Street before the crowd marched around the city centre before finishing at the GPO. Picture: Sam Boal

Sightings of known republican figures among the violent clashes in Dublin city centre over the weekend are why Garda commissioner Drew Harris said he incorrectly said "extreme left" factions were involved in the melee.

Commissioner Harris was forced to clarify comments he made on Saturday night that left-wing activists were involved in the demonstration, which turned violent and ended up with three gardaí injured and 23 people arrested.

According to sources, persons previously associated with hardline republican and socialist groups appeared to align themselves with far-right elements, who were protesting against the year-long restrictions on personal freedoms.

In his statement, Commissioner Harris said despite initial indications, following further investigation, there is no corroborated evidence of extreme left factions being involved.

“The vast majority of those who took part belong to a number of factions including anti-vaccine, anti-mask, and anti-lockdown protestors, far-right groups, and those intent on trouble and disorder,” he said.

An Garda Síochána regards "extreme left factions/ groups” as those who are intent on using violence for political means, the statement said.

Responding to the commissioner’s clarification, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said people should not “get caught up” with what group was involved.

She said “there will be consequences” for those involved in illegal riots like Dublin on Saturday, adding further arrests are likely.

The violence in Dublin “wasn’t a protest, it was a riot”, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar said it was lucky that no one was seriously injured or killed during the violent clashes.

“There's no excuse for using that kind of violence to advance a political cause no matter what that cause is,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly welcomed the commissioner’s clarification and also condemned the violent scenes. 

She said such violations of social distancing restrictions were “a slap in the face” to frontline workers, who have risked their own lives in dealing with the pandemic over the past 12 months, while People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy hit out at Ms McEntee, saying it is important to know it was the far right behind the violence.

“Why does it matter that the top garda in the State wrongly said the far left was involved in [the] protest? Because the far right, who organised a violent anti-worker demo, thrive on this misinformation and because socialist left regularly described as such by the establishment,” he said.

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