What our reporters saw

 

WEDNESDAY’S HUGE student protest may have been marred by scenes of violence but the main protest itself was powerful, uplifting – and very peaceful.

At one stage, Gary Redmond, president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) even thanked the Garda for its assistance in coping with crowd of over 25,000 that gathered at the back gates of Leinster House.

But 10 minutes after the concluding speeches from the back of a truck on Merrion Street, there was mayhem and violence outside the Department of Finance building, around the corner in Merrion Row.

How did it develop?

As the crowd dispersed and headed back to their buses, a small group began to run towards the top of Merrion Street, turning right on to Merrion Row, at Foley’s Pub.

As we raced after them it was unclear why this group was running, or where they were heading.

They headed towards the new Department of Finance building on Merrion Row.

At least 40 demonstrators rushed into the department building. Gardaí managed to remove close to half of these and were then forced to barricade in the remaining 20 demonstrators.

A group of several hundred now gathered outside the building, with a line of gardaí at the entrance between them and the protesters trapped inside.

There were numerous Socialist Workers Party and Éirígí flags in the crowd.

A brick was thrown at the wall of the building, along with bottles, cans and signs which were thrown at the gardaí.

A Garda mounted unit and three vans arrived outside the building, dividing the group outside in half. The protesters began a sit-down protest in front of the mounted unit.

At this stage, one might have expected a public appeal by loudspeaker from the Garda asking everyone to calm down and stop throwing implements. Some of the protesters only wanted to stage a sit-down protest but others appeared intent on confrontation.

The lack of any control by either the Garda or any USI leaders created a vacuum.

When gardaí in full riot gear arrived and took up position between the other gardaí and protesters, it raised the overall temperature.

Gardaí began removing protesters they had previously trapped in the lobby.

There were physical altercations between them and a female garda was struck.

Some protesters put up strong resistance to gardaí, kicking out as they sought to remove them.

Some of the protesters exited the building with evidence of a beating on their faces.

In what appeared to be a well-drilled operation, two lines of gardaí removed the protesters one by one from the building.

Essentially, the students who were present fell into two categories.

One was a group en route from the main protest who chanced upon what appeared initially to be a bit of craic.

But there was also a group who appeared intent on confrontation. Strikingly, some of this group did not wear the specially-designed yellow USI T-shirt.

Some of this group hurled objects indiscriminately at the lobby of the finance building, risking injury not just to gardaí but to students.

The implements thrown included bricks, wood, cans of beer and bottles. In the mayhem, it was surprising that more people were not seriously injured.

As the confrontation continued, one lone drummer continued to maintain the frenzied atmosphere. By now eggs were being thrown almost continuously at the front of the building.

One hoodie-clad youth alongside picked up a piece of timber and threw it at the foyer, from where the protesters were being removed.

He then walked back in the direction of St Stephen’s Green.

Around the fringes of the group, there appeared to be a small coterie directing events; some spoke on their mobile phones.

During all of this, they shouted “Shame on you’’ repeatedly at gardaí.

Slowly, the protesters were moved back under continuing pressure. Riot police charged, followed by the unit on horseback, and pushed the entire crowd back to a spot adjacent to the Shelbourne Hotel. Several gardaí with dogs were also present.

Interviewed later a student member of the Socialist Workers Party said a group from his party had met with like-minded colleagues from the Republican socialist movement Éirígí and the Free Education for Everyone movement a half-hour before the main protest began at 12.30pm.

He said they all expressed their unease with the tactics of the USI and were determined to be the most vocal and high-profile protesters.