Gardaí identify men behind fireworks attack, further arrests expected

Officer to undergo surgery for injuries sustained during anti-lockdown protest in Dublin

Protesters and gardaí clashed during an anti-lockdown demonstration in Dublin city centre on Saturday. Photograph: Damian Eagers/PA Wire

Protesters and gardaí clashed during an anti-lockdown demonstration in Dublin city centre on Saturday. Photograph: Damian Eagers/PA Wire

 

Gardaí have identified a group who launched fireworks at officers during violent scenes on Dublin’s Grafton Street on Saturday and expect to make arrests shortly.

The group comprises males from the Monkstown/Dún Laoghaire area who have a history of engaging in anti-social behaviour.

“They are a bunch of thugs who have terrorised Monkstown Farm for years. They are organised in a sense that they all work together and are into all sorts of stuff. But mainly just thugs,” a source said.

Gardaí have clear footage and images of the group, including of them preparing the firework to be fired during a mid-afternoon stand-off between gardaí and anti-lockdown protesters.

One of the group’s members, a 30-year-old from south Dublin, then brings it up to the line of gardaí and fires it towards an officer. Gardaí have identified this man and some of his accomplices and expect to make arrests soon. One of his associates, who can be seen on video attempting to kick gardaí, is understood to be a 27-year-old from south Dublin who has several previous convictions.

Fractured ankle

Thirteen people were charged with public order offences related to the Grafton Street incident on Saturday before a special sitting of Dublin District Court. None of those charged are understood to have been involved in the firework incident.

Three gardaí suffered injuries during the violence, with one due to undergo surgery on a fractured ankle. Another garda suffered a perforated eardrum.

Many more gardaí suffered “bumps and bruises” from projectiles and scuffles with the crowd, sources said, while others were left shaken by the incident.

One source said they believed at one stage they were being fired upon with live weapons, rather than fireworks. Protesters also threw rocks, glass bottles and barriers at officers.

The Garda Representative Association said the event underscored why frontline gardaí should receive Covid-19 vaccines “as soon as possible”.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Saturday said elements of the far right and far left were involved in the violence. His statement fuelled speculation among far-right groups that those who instigated the violence were left-wing agents provocateurs.

Mr Harris issued a statement on Sunday clarifying that there was no far-left involvement. It is understood gardaí and Mr Harris initially believed members of Saoradh, a far-left dissident republican group with ties to the New IRA, were present as counterprotesters. Members of Saoradh have previously counterprotested right-wing events. However, there is no evidence they were involved in any violence on Saturday.

“When he talks about far left he means groups involved in violence, not People Before Profit or other left parties in the Dáil,” a source close to Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris said the vast majority of those who took part in the protest “belong to a number of factions including anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown protesters, far-right groups and those intent on trouble and disorder”.

“Despite initial indications, following further investigation, there is no corroborated evidence of extreme left factions being involved,” he added.

The anti-lockdown protest was organised online by a group called RiseUp Éireann. In social media posts, including on Facebook and Instagram, it told followers to gather at St Stephen’s Green at 2pm for a “Unite the Tribes” event.

Gardaí were aware of the protest and instructed the Office of Public Works to close the park on Saturday and the nearby Iveagh Gardens, in case the protesters relocated there.

Instigate violence

March organisers instructed attendees to gather at the St Stephen’s Green entrance, where the Garda Public Order Unit and local officers were deployed to keep the crowd from entering.

Most of the crowd was peaceful but several groups began to abuse gardaí and instigate violence. These included members of the far-right National Party, the Irish branch of the Proud Boys and former members of Generation Identity.

Following the violence, most of the crowd walked to the GPO on O’Connell Street where they were addressed by anti-lockdown speakers.

RiseUp Éireann declared the event an success. “Ireland rose up!” it posted. “The greatest awakening is here.” The group frequently uses its social media accounts to call for an immediate end to lockdown and to spread conspiracy theories, including that Covid-19 is a hoax.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s violence, it claimed, without evidence, that “antifa Soros funded control opposition” were behind to violence in an attempt to make them look bad. It also claimed, again without evidence, that gardaí brought the fireworks to the event.

Garda intelligence is currently aware of plans for at least two more anti-lockdown protests deemed to have potential to turn violent, including one in Cork and one on St Patrick’s Day in Dublin.