Minister for Justice to brief Cabinet on anti-lockdown protests

Minister has been assured gardaí will be ready for any future attempts at violence

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has been in regular contact with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in relation to anti-lockdown protests, officials said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has been in regular contact with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in relation to anti-lockdown protests, officials said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will brief the Cabinet on Tuesday on the violence in Dublin city centre at the weekend, amid concerns in Government about future anti-lockdown protests in the coming weeks.

Ms McEntee spoke to Taoiseach Micheál Martin about the events at the weekend and it is understood the three coalition party leaders discussed the issue on Monday night.

Ms McEntee has been in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, officials said, and has been assured that the gardaí will be ready for any future attempts at violence.

Meanwhile, Facebook has said it has removed several posts and groups promoting misinformation around Covid-19 and calling for violence.

Several hundred people gathered on Grafton Street on Saturday in a large protest against coronavirus lockdown restrictions, organised primarily on social-media platforms.

Among the crowd were members of the far-right National Party, the Irish branch of the Proud Boys and former members of Generation Identity.

Several gardaí were injured during the protest, with one group of demonstrators firing a firework at gardaí, leading to violent clashes.

Thirteen people were charged with public-order offences related to the protest on Saturday before a special sitting of Dublin District Court. After a stand-off between gardaí and demonstrators on Grafton Street, the crowds made their way to the GPO on O’Connell Street.

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the social-media company had removed “several pieces of content” and a number of Facebook groups over breaches of the company’s rules. These included Ireland Breathes Free 5.0 and RiseUp Éireann, two groups which had promoted the anti-lockdown protest.

Planned protest

The RiseUp Éireann group had advertised plans for further anti-lockdown protests to be held later this month on St Patrick’s Day, before it was removed on Monday.

The group often posted conspiracy theories claiming Covid-19 was a hoax, and had described the demonstration on Saturday as a great “awakening”.

“We’re also in touch with the gardaí. We take down posts calling for violence or co-ordinating harm,” Facebook’s spokeswoman said.

“We also remove content that contains harmful misinformation, such as claims Covid-19 is a hoax, that face masks and social distancing don’t help prevent the spread of Covid-19, and that the Covid-19 vaccine changes people’s DNA, when we are made aware of this content,” she said.

The social-media company has faced heavy criticism, particularly in the United States, over its response to misinformation spread on its platform.

Another Facebook group continued to advertise a planned “Rally for truth” anti-lockdown protest in Cork city on Saturday.

On Monday night Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said digital platforms “have a responsibility to increase their level of moderation and to actively prevent dissemination of information that encourages the scenes we saw last weekend”.

“I am contacting those companies and asking them to take action,” he said.