A major policing operation involving road and probable park closures was due to commence in Dublin early on Wednesday morning in an attempt to manage anti-lockdown protests planned for St Patrick’s Day.
Some 2,500 Garda members will be on duty across the country on the day, and while the main focus will be on Dublin, gardaí elsewhere – especially in Galway and Limerick – were preparing for public gatherings and potential unrest, including large crowds gathering to drink in some locations.
Gardaí said there was anecdotal evidence of higher levels of street drinking on Tuesday in the fine weather.
Public order units will be on call to be deployed when required on St Patrick’s Day, though gardaí were hopeful they would not be needed.
Senior officers believe far-right groups were hoping to hijack the national holiday to bring crowds out on to the streets in Dublin, given it falls around the first anniversary of strict lockdown measures being introduced.
However, sources said that while the force would be prepared for unrest or violence, a graduated approach would be taken to policing on the day.
Uniform gardaí will serve as a high-visibility front line on the streets, with the Garda helicopter monitoring how crowds were building and moving in and around Dublin city centre.
There was no specific intelligence to suggest that violence was being planned and it was hoped that events would pass off peacefully.
Gardaí have also urged people to desist from hosting or attending parties or other social gatherings amid concerns about the slow rate of decline in Covid-19 cases despite a lengthy lockdown.
Deputy Garda Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon, who is in charge of policing and security, appealed to people to approach St Patrick’s Day in a manner that did not compromise recent efforts to reduce the spread of the disease.
“While it won’t be a normal St Patrick’s Day, we can still all enjoy the day safely at home,” she said. “Staying home this St Patrick’s Day is the best thing people can do for their country and the best thing they can do for the people they know and love.”
An anti-lockdown event targeting RTÉ was planned for the broadcaster's Donnybrook campus on Wednesday afternoon, while at least three other protests and gatherings were due to take place in and around Dublin city centre. The streets around Leinster House, including Kildare Street, Molesworth Street and Merrion Street, were expected to be closed off.
Depending on the numbers gathering, a number of parks may also be closed, including Herbert Park, Merrion Square and St Stephen’s Green.
While the Garda normally works with groups organising protests to facilitate them, organising any such public event at present is a criminal offence under Covid-19 legislation. Garda Headquarters said some of the groups organising the events had not engaged with the force in any way.
Gardaí will be out in numbers from early morning in Dublin with checkpoints on main roads into the city centre as well as near RTÉ to check if people are breaching Covid-19 regulations and venturing more than 5km from home. Members will also be engaging with people travelling on public transport.