Gardaí 'prepared' for loyalist march
Gardai will be "prepared for any eventuality" that arises during a loyalist protest in Dublin on Saturday, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said today.
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.
Mr Shatter said individuals had a “right” to march on the streets and he hoped their views would be allowed to be expressed and there would not be “any untoward incidents.”
Asked on RTÉ Radio about dissident republicans using the march as an opportunity to cause trouble, Mr Shatter said: "I know that the gardaí will undertake any preparation necessary to ensure that if there is an event in Dublin the maximum possible is done to ensure the safety of any individuals who march.
"I would certainly hope that other individuals will not opportunistically use this event to create problems on our streets."
Mr Shatter had “great concern at events in recent weeks” in Belfast and had hoped the time for such events “had passed”. Mr Shatter said it required constructive engagement among political parties in the North.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick said there was “real and growing concern” in Dublin over the prospect of demonstrations as seen in the North “being visited on the streets” next weekend.
As chairwoman of Dublin City Council’s Joint Policing Committee, Ms Fitzpatrick has asked the Garda for details of the permission granted to organisers and what undertakings the organisers have made that it would “pass off without incident”. She has also asked the Garda to detail arrangements it is putting in place to minimise disruption and maximise public safety in the city centre, she said in a statement today.
Retail Excellence Ireland expressed concern that the march could hit already fragile Dublin city centre businesses.
Marches “send a message to consumers, to citizens, that their civic space …is closed, is not available to them and in this case is potentially dangerous," chief executive David Fitzsimons told RTÉ Radio. “It sent a message to consumers to go elsewhere,” he said.
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. 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.
Mr Shatter said he was “not yet entirely clear what is intended for Saturday”.
As of this afternoon, gardaí have not yet received a formal request from chief organiser of the planned protest, Willie Frazer, to stage the event.
Garda sources said 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.
Mr Frazer said if gardaí told him there was going to be serious trouble he would not come to Dublin on Saturday.
“If the gardaí come to us and say listen there’s going to be massive trouble in Dublin we will say well ok then there is no point in us going down to Dublin. We are not going to be used as a scapegoat for the arrogance and ignorance of republicans,” Mr Frazer told Niall Boylan on Classic Hits 4FM last night.
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.