Gardaí arrested 13 people on Wednesday evening after intervening in protests outside Government Buildings during which TDs were harangued and jostled.
In a statement on Wednesday night, An Garda Síochána said it was required to intervene during public order incidents on Molesworth Street, Kildare Street and Merrion Street “on a number of occasions”.
It said 13 arrests were made over the course of the day “connected with incidents in the vicinity of Government Buildings”. A senior investigating officer has been appointed “to co-ordinate and investigate all of the circumstances regarding these incidents and any other matters which may be identified as necessary for investigation which occurred around Government Buildings”.
Gardaí scrambled to escort TDs to safety outside Leinster House amid far-right protests during which a mock gallows was erected outside the building.
About 200 demonstrators gathered on Molesworth Street on the first day of the new Dáil term where they shouted abuse at people entering and exiting the building.
They were protesting against various issues including immigration, Covid-19 vaccines, transgender rights, sex education in schools and proposed hate-speech laws.
Some protesters carried placards depicting politicians including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald as “traitors” or “globalists”. There were chants of “Irish lives matter” and “Ireland for the Irish”. At the centre of the protest was a makeshift gallows with photographs of several politicians attached. A figure in a suit with bundles of cash in its pockets was hung in effigy.
Gardaí kept the demonstrators back from the main entrance to Leinster House but some politicians found themselves surrounded by angry crowds as they entered or left the building, forcing gardaí to intervene to usher them to safety.
Protesters blocked the path of Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and shouted “traitor” at him, including through a loudspeaker. Gardaí intervened and escorted the Cork South-Central representative through the crowd.
“I’m elected to represent my home city of Cork. I do it day in, day out and no one will deter me from that,” said Mr Ó Laoghaire.
Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy-Rae faced similar scenes as he left the building. Protesters pushed him, called him a “traitor” and told him “this is our country” as gardaí escorted him to safety.
He later said his intern was assaulted and had her mobile phone stolen as they left the Dáil during the protest. He said the young woman was “rattled by the experience” and that kind of conduct was “no way to behave”.
“[It was] her first day here on an official intern programme from America. She was pushed, shoved, kicked in the back of her legs where it wouldn’t be seen and her phone was stolen,” he said. “I think that’s what these people were doing now today.”
Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who is attending the UN General Assembly in New York, condemned the scenes.
“We live in a parliamentary democracy, notwithstanding the flaws in any democracy,” he said. “There was no need for that kind of behaviour.”
Attack on Constitution
Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan also condemned the nature of the demonstration: “I think those sort of protests are a direct attack on the Irish Constitution, on the Republic, and on the idea that we’re all equal. We’re all actually sovereign in our country. How dare they, is what I’d say.”
The demonstration was attended by several prominent far-right figures who have travelled the country in recent months organising anti-immigration and anti-sex education protests.
Derek Blighe, leader of the newly registered anti-immigration party Ireland First, addressed the crowd and said there were undercover gardaí among them attempting to instigate violence.
Another man who has been active in protesting outside libraries in recent weeks outlined various conspiracy theories to the crowd, including claims children are being made to sign secrecy contracts in schools to stop them telling their parents what they are being taught.
Also present were three anti-racism demonstrators who were taunted repeatedly by the larger group.
There were about a dozen gardaí stationed at the entrance to Leinster House, with additional public order gardaí in reserve. Gardaí also blocked the top of Kildare Street at Stephen’s Green, with only those working in Leinster House allowed to pass.
After the day’s sitting, politicians were advised to leave in convoy in their cars from the Merrion Street entrance for safety reasons. By that stage, the gallows had been moved from Kildare Street to the Merrion Street entrance.
Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward has written to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris warning that the force risked having its credibility “substantially eroded” if it did not take action against the groups.
“I greatly respect and value the right to protest but what we saw today was not legitimate protest,” he said in a letter sent to Mr Harris on Wednesday.
He said the right of Oireachtas members to attend the parliament had been “disrupted by individuals who sought to interfere with our political system”.
“Today, the whole of Kildare Street was closed and unusable because of the brazen actions of a few people who sought to disrupt, threaten and frighten the representatives of the people of Ireland. This cannot be allowed to happen again,” he added.