Violent clashes at anti-lockdown protest in Dublin condemned

Up to 100 gardaí involved in operation as protesters and counter-protesters gathered on Saturday afternoon

Groups of protesters and counter-protesters clashed in Dublin on Saturday at an anti-lockdown demonstration. Photograph:  Paul Faith/ AFP

Groups of protesters and counter-protesters clashed in Dublin on Saturday at an anti-lockdown demonstration. Photograph: Paul Faith/ AFP

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There has been widespread condemnation of the violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters at a weekend anti-lockdown demonstration in Dublin city centre.

The confrontation between protesting anti-lockdown groups, including the right-wing National Party, and a group of counter-protesters, some of whom described themselves on social media as communists, took place over two hours on Saturday afternoon in the Kildare Street Molesworth Street area.

Gardaí struggled at times to contain violent exchanges between both sides, although up to 100 members of the force were involved in the operation.

Dozens of people on both sides threw punches and kicks while nuts, bolts, fireworks and other projectiles were launched. Nearby gardaí on bicycles quickly dismounted, drew their batons and rushed in to break up the violence.

Other members of the force jumped over cordons and began to form a line between the two groups. As gardaí began to get the situation under control, steel barriers were erected to keep both sides apart.

At several points, members of the group of counter-protesters, with their entire faces covered, approached members of the media and demanded to see credentials and identification.

Members of the gardaí intervened on at least two occasions to stop these interventions turning violent. “You can’t go back up there,” said one garda. “They have you marked. I wouldn’t be able to pull you out.”

In response to the incident, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said “violence, threatening behaviour and intimidation clearly have no place in a peaceful protest and any such incidents will be investigated by An Garda Síochána”.

‘Greatly concerned’

Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu said protests which spread disinformation and make streets unsafe should not continue unchecked.

“I would never be one to tell people not to protest, people have a right to be heard, but a lot of traders and the public are telling me they don’t feel safe in the city.”

“We are asking people to restrict their movements, to adhere to social distancing and then they see things like this. I think we have to make sure people who are protesting also adhere to these measures,” she said.

Ms Chu said those who were involved in counter protests needed to ensure they weren’t drawn into physical altercations with the anti-lockdown protesters.

The chairman of Dublin city’s Joint Policing Committee, Sinn Féin councillor Daithí de Róiste said he was “greatly concerned” by the scenes.

“Everybody respects people’s right to protest, but we need to have peaceful protests, people need to be respectful of each other... where is people’s esprit de corps, that sense of looking out for other people in society?”

The incident was particularly hard on city businesses, already seeing footfall sharply down due to the pandemic, Mr de Róiste said.

Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy said that “very few people will thank them for what they’re doing in a pandemic”. She added that the violence happened on a day when the numbers of Covid-19 cases were particularly high.

Gardaí arrested two men and one was charged on Sunday and will appear in court next month, while the other man was released without charge.