An anti-lockdown protest has passed off without incident in Cork City centre, with at least 450 people attending despite having been urged to stay away.
The protest event, organised by a group called the People's Convention, took place at the junction of Winthrop St and Patrick St in the city centre, amid a heavy Garda presence.
Spokesperson for the group, Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, and others who addressed the crowd stressed that it was a peaceful event, while another speaker, Peter O'Donoghue, said that if anyone was intent on causing trouble they should leave.
Many in the crowd were not wearing masks and gathered to hear claims that the lockdown was unnecessary and that any benefits from restrictions in place to limit the spread of Covid-19 did not outweigh the disadvantages.
Even before the event got underway, sisters and Cork camogie stars Pamela and Katrina Mackey from Douglas were displaying signs demanding alternative strategies for tackling the coronavirus and claiming that there was "no transparency" regarding the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
"This is not a sustainable strategy," Katrina said, while Pamela Mackey said not being able to train was "extremely difficult".
"Are we willing to take away all the beneficial impacts of sport?" she asked. "I don't think that is right."
John O'Donoghue, who lives in Blackrock in Cork, held a sign saying 'The RTÉ Golfgate sagas prove they don't believe Covid is lethal'.
"We have heard nothing but lies in the last number of years about abortion and same-sex marriage," he said. "I would like to get back to my normality."
He said he shakes hands "regularly" with people and never wears a mask, adding "I never breathe in their faces".
Mr Ó Cadhla said the event and the organisers were neither "far-left nor far-right" and said no laws had been broken by holding the event. He said others would have attended had they been allowed to travel beyond the 5km limit.
Peter O'Donoghue referred to what he called "unnecessary lockdown" and referred to shortcomings in the Irish health system that existed before lockdown, something echoed by other speakers.
He also referred to the fact that some of his neighbours had said he was "stupid, selfish and foolish" to attend the event and that they had asked him to "cop on".
But, referring to incidents within his own family in the past year, including "lonely deaths" of people unable to be seen by loved ones, he said he was marching for his children and against what he termed the "slippery slope of authoritarianism"
A reference to Irish politicians sparked one person in the crowd to shout "treason" while another shouted, "get rid of the fake news media".
Another speaker referred to "manipulation of the figures from the outset", while Paddy Bullman, from east Cork, said, "the only thing they wanted to stop you spreading was the truth".
Organisers had been urged by authorities and others, such as Catriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners, to cancel the event for fear of spreading the virus at a time when Cork's incidence rate is currently the lowest in the country and with vaccination rollout continuing.
Diarmaid O'Cadhla said he had nothing but respect for frontline care workers, but said the "scaremongering" was continuing.
Gardai were very visible in and around the event and a helicopter hovered overhead, although there were no flashpoints, with the demonstration finishing up after around an hour with the crowd singing the national anthem.
Businesses in Cork city centre have boarded up premises ahead of an anti-lockdown protest this afternoon.
Workmen were boarding up windows of some retailers on Patrick's Street, including Dunnes Stores, fearing a repeat of last weekend's violence in Dublin.
Garda checkpoints are in place on approaches to the city, with tailbacks on the M8, near the Glanmire junction, as gardaí question motorists on their reasons for travel.
The policing of today’s anti-lockdown protest will be a “showcase” of how gardaí will deal with the expected mass protest in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day, Garda sources have said.
A range of gardaí, at various ranks, have expressed satisfaction at the policing plan that has been put in place for today's event.
A number of sources have said that if there is any violence or criminal damage that “it will be dealt with”, and that there will be enough gardaí on duty to “nip anything in the bud”.
Garda sources said that, as it stands, the threat level is “very low” and that there is no indication of violence — but they are conscious that gardaí also had no prior warning of violence before last week’s protest on Grafton St in Dublin.
Theunderstands part of today's policing plan involves an arrest policy for people travelling further than 5km for the event who refuse to comply with a garda direction to return home.
Gardaí will be particularly on the lookout for “known troublemakers” heading into the city, with sources saying there will be an overt and covert garda presence.
Various gardaí we have spoken to seem to be happy with the level of resources that have been promised for the day, with plans to mobilise more resources from neighbouring stations if the need arises.
There was only one public order unit deployed to last Saturday’s protest — in line with the threat assessment.
They were deployed in “soft cap” mode and were holding the line with uniform gardaí when violence quickly developed. They were unable to go back to their vans to re-kit into full ‘riot gear’.
Sources stressed that gardaí do not want to deploy in full riot gear with shields and helmets from the outset, with the possibility that families will be attending the protest.
Gardaí do not, as it stands, expect big numbers, but know this could turn out not to be the case.
Various gardaí also point out there is no history of violence at previous anti-lockdown protests in Cork.
Gardaí are aware of the danger of criminal elements latching on to the protest and the risk posed to shops.
Mounting calls from charity campaigners, business leaders, the Lord Mayor of Cork, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties for the protest to be scrapped have been ignored by organisers.
Meanwhile, a high-level internal Garda review is under way into the handling of last Saturday’s protest.