At 3pm on Wednesday, Abby Caballero, a political science student from California, met Michael Healy-Rae for the first time. She was just beginning a three-month stint as an intern for the Independent TD from Kerry.
Within minutes, as they walked on to Kildare Street, she was caught in the middle of a nasty confrontation as she and Healy-Rae were surrounded by a hostile mob, who jostled him and swore at him.
The incident was captured on video and widely shared on social media. Healy-Rae was verbally abused, manhandled and pushed. Two gardaí came quickly to his aid and protected him from the crowd who barracked him with insults and expletives. Caballero (21) can be seen at the edge of the frame trying to stay close to her new boss, and being shoved by right-wing protesters.
Healy-Rae had been on his way to Kildare House, across the road from the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House, to get his computer fixed. But as they both came down the steps of Kildare House they were spotted by protesters and followed. Healy-Rae tried to get to the entrance gate but was pressed back by the crowd and pushed several times.
For his young intern on her first day, it was a baptism of fire. “They started yelling at him and filming him, coming up close to him. At first, I wasn’t concerned. I was just kind of like, okay this is a little crazy for the first day but this is fine.
“Once Michael realised we were not able to get back into the building [Kildare House], he tried to get to the Dáil. And that’s when the bottles were thrown and people were pushing him.
“It became serious really quick. It was crazy. Once he started getting things thrown at him and pushed around, the guards were really fast to come and help him.
“But they did not know who I was. I was just getting caught up in all of it and getting shoved around. I was not the target. They saw him and were going for him.
“At one point I got my phone taken by one of the crowd. The phone was in the pocket of my pants and it was taken.”
Besides her phone being taken, there was a little bit of momentary panic when she got separated from him and the gardaí. “Michael Healy-Rae was quite a bit in front of me with the guards, and the crowd was running and pushing. It was obvious I was working for him. I was in professional dress and had my badge on. It definitely crossed my mind that they might yell at me and push me.
“Luckily that didn’t happen. I just kind of got caught up in everything. I didn’t feel targeted but there were definitely moments where I was feeling a little uneasy.”
Finally, Healy-Rae and Caballero, accompanied by gardaí, made their way via back streets to Agriculture House with a few of the protesters still following them.
Besides the loss of her mobile phone, Caballero was sanguine about the affair. She said she could see parallels with the violent protests in Washington in January 2021 that led to incursion into the Capitol Buildings. But she pointed out that the scale was very different and there was no attempt in Dublin to storm the barricades. “It’s a difficult topic. People deserve the right to protest but when they begin yelling and pushing, it feels a little scary.”
She said the other eight American interns who have started working for TDs were very concerned when they heard she had been caught up. The San Diego native is a third-year student of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and is undaunted by the experience of her first day as an intern in Ireland. She is even taking her first trip down to Healy-Rae’s constituency of Kerry this weekend.
“I’d really like to work in politics after I graduate. I don’t know if I necessarily want to be an elected official like Michael Healy-Rae but I think working in this sector, and helping to write legislation, would be really interesting.”