Four for court over Blair protest

Sat, Sep 4, 2010, 01:00

Four men were arrested following a protest in Dublin city centre yesterday morning where former British prime minister Tony Blair held a public book signing, the first since his memoirs were released this week.

The four, two aged in their late teens and two aged in their 30s, were taken to Store Street Garda station where they were charged with public order offences and released. They are due to appear in court on September 30th.

Mr Blair arrived at the Eason store on O'Connell Street shortly after 10.30am yesterday. Shoes, eggs and bottles were thrown toward him as he arrived.

Several hundred anti-war protesters staged a demonstration opposite the shop amid tight Garda security.

The pavement area outside Eason and neighbouring stores were sealed off, with a line of gardaí and two sets of temporary railings separating the shop from the demonstrators, who gathered in the traffic island in the middle of O'Connell Street.

A bottle and some smaller missiles were thrown when a motorcade of three silver BMWs and a blacked-out minivan pulled up to the book store and then left. A number of minor scuffles took place throughout the protest, and the four men were arrested by gardaí as a result.

The northbound section of O'Connell Street was closed, and Luas services on Middle Abbey Street were halted. The Eason outlet was closed to the general public while the signing took place, and security shutters were pulled down on the Middle Abbey Street side.

However, those attending the book signing outnumbered the protesters by about 3:1. A long queue stretched down Middle Abbey Street past the entrance to Arnotts.

Sitting on the third floor of the store Mr Blair met over 200 people in person and signed at least a further 100 copies for people queuing outside.

Customers who attended the signing were given wristbands and had to pass through airport-like security, checking in all bags including purses and phones into a holding point.

Kate O’Sullivan (24) from Cork attempted to make a citizens arrest on Mr Blair after buying the book. She said she approached Mr Blair saying “I’m here to make a citizen's arrest for war crimes that you’ve committed.

“Immediately five security people grabbed me, dragging me off. They brought me down the stairwell around the corner held me there for about 20 minutes . . . and told me I’m allowed to go with a caution.”

Ms O’Sullivan said Mr Blair did not respond to her but just “looked annoyed”.

Another protester, Niall Farrell, from a Galway anti-war group queued and succeeded in getting past the initial security check. However, he was then recognised and was ejected from the premises.

“They obviously recognised that I’m a peace activist, and peace activists have to be observed. That’s the world that we live in, peace activists are a danger, mass murderers can be driven around with armed guards,” he said.

Mr Blair left the store at about 12.40pm with hundreds of people still queuing along Abbey Street for the signing.

The former premier's book A Journey has become one of the fastest selling autobiographies on record. Eason said there has been unprecedented demand for the book and it has gone straight to the number one spot in their stores around the country.

Managing director Conor Whelan said he was delighted the event went “so smoothly”.

O'Connell and Middle Abbey streets were shut earlier but later reopened to traffic.