Violent scenes were a riot, not a protest says Leo Varadkar

The Tánaiste also hit out at the 'bonkers' conspiracy theories floated by some at the clashes in Dublin. 
Violent scenes were a riot, not a protest says Leo Varadkar

Cashes between gardaí and protestors in Dublin on Saturday. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The violence on the streets of Dublin on Saturday was “not a protest, it was a riot” according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Speaking on Newstalk radio, Mr Varadkar said it was lucky that no one was seriously injured or killed during violent clashes between Gardai and anti-lockdown protestors on Grafton Street.

Some 23 people were arrested after the clashes in the centre of Dublin, which saw three gardaí injured. 

“It wasn't a protest, it was a riot, and there's no excuse for using that kind of violence to advance a political cause no matter what that causes,” he said.

“We're just lucky that somebody didn't get seriously injured or killed. And I have to say, I think the gardaí did an amazing job. They took control of the situation really quickly got control the situation very quickly thereafter, and the fact that we saw people being brought to court. That very night was a really good example of very swift and very effective policing,” Mr Varadkar added.

The Tánaiste said that as we are still in a pandemic really there shouldn't be any protests.

“I'm a great believer in free speech and nobody ever wants to ban protests, but gatherings of this nature are not allowed in level five lockdown and wide social distance protests are possible.” 

Mr Varadkar said there are all sorts of protest movements, down the years and it isn't unusual for any protest movement to have a sinister fringe, which will have a different agenda.

“That agenda might go beyond the issue at hand, and those people might, might turn to violence or, you know, we saw that many times in recent years in Ireland, unfortunately,” the Tánaiste added.

Protestors confront Gardai during an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre.
Protestors confront Gardai during an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre.

In the Sunday Times, some protestors in Dublin yesterday were asked why they were protesting or how it was linked to RTÉ, the state broadcaster.

Those quoted outlined a conspiracy theory that involved babies being killed and harvested for “adrenochrome” which is used to keep RTE celebrities “looking young” while the corpses are buried under the new children’s hospital.

The two claimed the government were “basically paedophiles” and that there were videos explaining this on a website known for hosting far-right speakers and conspiracy theories.

Mr Varadkar said such commentary was “bonkers” and similar to the kind of conspiracy theories heard from far-right supporters in the United States.

He said social media platforms should take down or stop messaging which promotes extreme or illegal activity.

“It will be possible to order platforms to take down harmful content if they don't do that already. And anything that incites violence in my view is harmful content. And I think there's a responsibility on some of the social media platforms as well, to do the exact same. But often the stuff isn't hosted on the major platforms that are household names, there are some fringe ones out there as well, that aren't regulated in Ireland, of course,” he said.

Garda Commissioner’s comments

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said that the Garda Commissioner’s comments linking the violence of Saturday to far-left individuals were based on initial intelligence which turned out not to be the case.

Protestors hold up signs during an anti lockdown gathering in Dublin City centre following earlier violence.
Protestors hold up signs during an anti lockdown gathering in Dublin City centre following earlier violence.

Speaking on RTÉ radio after Commissioner Drew Harris clarified his comments on Sunday morning that there was no evidence to back up his claim which had annoyed several left-wing TDs.

She said: “The Garda Commissioner has clarified his comments and made it clear that the vast majority of people there were anti-vaccination and anti maskers.” “There were fractions from various different groups. It seems as though there were people or individuals maybe who would have in the past had connections with violent groupings, but appear to have changed and moved,” she said.

“If we start to get caught up in what group who was part of what, we lose the fact that this was an illegal event. People who were there were there with the sole intent of causing disruption and causing harm, and they caused harm,” she said.

She said it's very difficult to know who exactly was behind there didn't seem to be any one organiser.

“At the same time, the guards are doing a huge amount of work to make sure that those who are responsible for yesterday what was an illegal gathering which turned into I believe a riot, and that they are held responsible,” she added.

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