Newtownmountkennedy protests: Taoiseach condemns ‘thuggery’ after violent clashes with gardaí at site earmarked for asylum seekers

McEntee and Harris back Garda handling of protests at site intended for use as accommodation for IP applicants

A screengrab from a social media posting shows gardaí and protesters near a site in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow earmarked for asylum seekers.. Photograph: X/Twitter

Taoiseach Simon Harris has condemned events in Co Wicklow on Thursday night, where six arrests were made during violent clashes between gardaí and protesters objecting to the proposed use of a local building as accommodation for international protection applicants.

Four people are due to appear in court on Friday afternoon in connection with the incidents.

The four men, one woman and a male juvenile were held overnight in Garda stations in Wicklow and on Friday morning it was confirmed that three of the men and the woman had been charged with offences under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.

The other man has been charged with alleged offences contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1997. He was released to appear before court at a later date while the juvenile is to be referred to the Youth Diversion Project.


“You don’t protest in this country with an axe. You don’t engage in protest that involve fire, that involves burning things, that involves thuggery and that involves assaulting members of an Garda Síochána or their vehicles. That is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible behaviour in this country,” said Mr Harris on Friday morning.

“I fully understand how communities can have views. I get that. Protest is legitimate in a democracy, I get that, but you don’t protest with an axe. What happened last night in this county of Wicklow will not be tolerated and will not be tolerated anywhere in this country as the laws of the land are clear and the laws of the land will be enforced by an Garda Síochána.”

Mr Harris added: “There is a very clear difference – which I understand, which the Gardaí understand and which the overwhelming majority of people in this country understand – between what is protest and what is thuggery and thuggery will not be tolerated.” He said that thuggery would not play any part deviating from plans to provide accommodation for International Protection applicants.

After visiting the scene in Newtownmountkennedy on Friday morning, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris described what had happened as “very unacceptable”.

“We’ve seen an attempt to burn a small outhouse-type premises, but also then, disgracefully, attacks on members of An Garda Síochána who were attacked with stones, and vehicles have been damaged, and one vehicle, the vehicle behind me, was damaged with an axe,” he said.

“Rubble and stones were thrown from fields and members had to deploy in protective public order equipment and shields to make sure that they could protect themselves from the assaults upon them,” Mr Harris said.

The protesters, however, accused gardaí of using heavy-handed tactics as they sought to facilitate the entry of workers to the site which the Department of Integration has been considering using for 20 eight-person tents.

In a statement, the protesters said what had happened was “a disgrace and should never have happened” but said the problem had been the Government had “bullied the people of Newtown to force a hugely unpopular immigration policy on them”. The described the behaviour of the gardaí as what might be expected in “a police state”.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s lunchtime news, Mr Harris denied the suggestion of heavy-handedness. “It’s not a heavy handed at all,” he said. “This was a graduated response to what we believed were reasonably foreseeable policing demands that we were going to face here.

“There was a risk of violence and we have to be in position obviously one, to protect ourselves and two, to protect those who are conducting legitimate business, and it is legitimate business that contractors provide accommodation for those seeking international protection. We have an obligation to preserve the peace but also to allow legitimate activity to continue.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin described the events as “unacceptable” and a threat to our democracy.

“As a society we will not tolerate any infringement on people going about their daily work and, in particular, we will not accept attacks on members of An Garda Síochána,” he said.

“There has been an increasing level of viciousness and violence and lack of respect for the basic laws of the land.”

He said the Cabinet would discuss the attacks in the coming days but said it posed wider questions for society.

“There’s a more fundamental point in terms of where Irish society is going, and the level of viciousness of commentary, the coarseness, the abuse, the violent nature of that commentary and now, as we see in actions as well, that threatens our democracy in my view. It threatens the way of life.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said “we all respect the right of people to protest, and protest peacefully but they do not have the right to prevent someone from entering their property, people going to work or from developing a site that they own”.

She said gardaí would always try to maintain order by consent and “we value the fact that the gardaí know how to judge a situation and how to respond effectively. When you have gardaí doing their job and helping to clear a site so people can go on to it but then coming under attack, then they have to respond and that is exactly what happened last night,” Ms McEntee said on Newstalk on Friday morning.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Justice, Pa Daly, was among a number of opposition politicians to condemn what had happened.

“Individuals trespassed, set fires and threw various items at Gardaí. We must be unequivocal in both our support for Gardaí, and condemnation of criminality. Violence and damage to property are totally unacceptable, as death or serious injury will surely follow.”

A screengrab from a social media posting shows a fire near the site in Newtouwnmountkennedy where gardaí and protestors clashed on Thursday. Photograph: X/Twitter

In a statement by An Garda Síochána last night, the force said about 50 gardaí, including members of the public order unit, had been at the site late on Thursday evening and that “as the situation has intensified, members of An Garda Síochána used force to defend themselves as part of an escalated response to the situation.

“The use of force included the use of incapacitant spray and deployment of public order gardaí in public order helmets and shields,” it said.

“Any Garda activity in relation to evolving events involves a graduated policing response taking into account relevant legislation and public safety, with enforcement as a last resort,” it said.

“An Garda Síochána is also aware of misinformation and disinformation being spread in relation to this ongoing incident.”

Videos of the clashes were posted on social media and Gript media’s Fatima Gunning said she was among those sprayed with incapacitant despite, she said, having identified herself as a reporter.

The protesters were critical of the workers arriving to work on the site wearing balaclavas.

A screengrab from a social media postings shows a scene from Newtownmountkennedy on Thursday night. Photograph: X/Twitter

Trudder House site has been targeted for protests since its intended use as accommodation first became public six weeks ago.

A fire at the location in the early hours of April 14th had to be extinguished by the fire brigade.

Protesters have claimed the site is unsuitable for the provision of accommodation to more than 150 people, say resources in the town are already overstretched and suggest the building, which has previously served as a school and HSE facility, cannot, under the terms of a trust, be used for anything other than health or educational purposes.

A meeting between the gardaí, the developer and local objectors has been scheduled for Monday, they have said.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times