Rush hour traffic in Dublin was brought to a standstill on Wednesday by protesters angered at the accommodating of asylum seekers in East Wall.
They have vowed to inflict “maximum disruption” with escalating demonstrations in further, unspecified city centre locations in the days and weeks ahead.
As cars and buses lined up along the Amien Street traffic artery in the north inner city, individual protesters at the Five Lamps crossroads criticised the lack of community consultation and the standard of accommodation faced by asylum seekers at the former ESB office.
While some raised concern at the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country, there was also annoyance at being labelled racist.
After half an hour, the demonstration moved toward the Samuel Beckett Bridge under garda supervision.
“We said a number of weeks ago that our protests would be escalating, it wouldn’t just be confined to East Wall; that we would be bringing the city to a standstill,” said protest coordinator Malachy Stenson.
“We’ve blocked the Port Tunnel on different nights. We’ve caused major traffic disruption. Again, we’re here tonight to block one of the main arteries in and out of the city ... nobody will know where we’re going to strike.”
The traffic disruption drew both hostile reactions from passing pedestrians and honks of approval from motorists.
An East Wall resident identifying herself only as Róisín said there was a feeling politicians thought they could foist the asylum centre on the community without consultation.
“You can’t just disregard people’s concerns and just call them racist for no reason, for us having some concerns,” she said. “And it does feel like, unfortunately, the political class has abandoned us ... it seems to be happening a lot in working class areas.”
While the protest focused itself on accommodation conditions and authorities failing to bend to community concerns, some raised the broader perceived threat of refugee numbers.
“If this keeps on going the way it is we will definitely feel the misery that it brings,” said one man who gave his name as Tommy.
Dublin City Council, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and An Garda Síochána advised motorists to avoid the area of the protest.
Earlier on Wednesday, retailers had urged the demonstrators not to disrupt shop owners, their staff and customers during the “crucial” Christmas trading period.
“It is the wrong time of the year for this. They are kind of shooting themselves in the foot,” said Louis Copeland, owner of the well-known men’s clothing shop on Capel Street.
“They won’t get much sympathy from retailers because this is our gravy time. The city is choked up enough. The traffic is going to be chaotic so it doesn’t help retail and it doesn’t help people working in the shops.”
Duncan Graham, managing director of Retail Excellence, the industry group with a membership of 2,200 retailers, said there were “better ways” for protesters to get their message across than to disrupt people’s day-to-day living.
“If you want to endear yourself to the public, you don’t do it this way. Retailers, particularly in Dublin city centre, are sick and tired of being used as a scapegoat for these sort of things,” he said, referring to disruption caused by protesting lorry drivers in April.
“It is tiresome and it doesn’t really achieve anything at this time of year other than to simply disrupt people going about their business.”
Mr Graham said the unseasonably cold weather over recent days had delayed Christmas shopping for many people making the run-up to Christmas Eve “a crucial period in retail”.
“It is the most important time so any disruption around this is challenging. It is frustrating that they think they can get their message across by taking on other businesses,” he said.
A Department of Transport spokesman asked protesters “to consider the travelling public and to avoid or minimise any delays to persons travelling to and from work or Christmas shopping and in particular to the many essential services that rely on access to and from the city centre”.