Gardaí prepare for loyalist rally at Dáil
Gardaí are preparing to mount a big security operation throughout the centre of Dublin on Saturday when loyalist protesters say they will rally outside Dáil Éireann as part of the dispute surrounding the flying of the union flag over Belfast City Hall.
Dissident republicans are planning a counter-demonstration. They have been involved in a gun feud with drugs gangs in the capital in recent years and engaged in violent disturbances for Queen Elizabeth’s visit two years ago.
This has raised fears of clashes, particularly in light of the violence, including gunfire, that has accompanied disturbances in Belfast.
Sources at Garda headquarters say the memory of the rioting that accompanied the Love Ulster rally in the city centre in 2006 will dictate the size and nature of the Garda operation next weekend.
“It’s all about threat assessment for us. And certainly the Love Ulster experience would feed into any security operation we’d put in place now,” said one source.
On the occasion of the Love Ulster rally, protesters rampaged on O’Connell Street for hours, using building materials from construction sites to throw at gardaí and vandalise parts of the city centre. There was looting and vehicles were set on fire over a wide area of the city.
Garda sources said while the chief organiser of the planned protest next Saturday Willie Frazer was yet to make any formal request to the Garda to stage the event, an approach was anticipated. Until a formal request has been received the specific arrangements for any protest on Saturday could not be put in place.
However, sources said it was anticipated that should the protesters seek permission to rally, they will be granted permission and are expected to number at least 150.
Gardaí will stipulate where they can rally and how many people can participate. If any group turns up in Dublin without first seeking permission from the force, they would most likely be prevented from protesting outside buildings designated as a security risk, such as the Dáil.
The front line of the Garda operation for any planned rally would be uniformed officers, who are unarmed. However, the Public Order Unit would be on standby in large vehicles outside key locations, such as the Dáil and Government Buildings, and will have batons and shields as well as access to an array of less than lethal weapons.
Buses would also be parked in other streets and at the ready to transport gardaí in riot gear to any location where trouble might flare.
The Special Detective Unit, which carries firearms, would also be involved as well as other units such as the Garda Mounted Unit and Garda Dog Unit, along with the helicopter monitoring ground conditions.
The National Surveillance Unit will also be deployed on the ground and will be monitoring the loyalist protest and the counter-protest mooted by dissident republicans.