Tánaiste Micheál Martin on Thursday labelled the conduct of protesters at a recent demonstration at Leinster House as “fascist-like behaviour”, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said threats are being made against politicians by people who have a history of violence and convictions.
A senior Garda officer has been appointed to lead an investigation into the protests outside the Dáil on Wednesday that led to 13 arrests.
The demonstration attracted around 200 participants and resulted in a number of TDs requiring Garda escort from Leinster House. Gardaí confirmed that 13 people had been charged, including two men (40s) who were brought before the court.
Following the protests on Wednesday, two women (30s and 40s), and nine men ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s are due at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin at a later, unspecified date, gardaí said.
Those who took part raised various issues including immigration, Covid-19 vaccines, transgender rights, sex education in schools and proposed hate-speech laws. The protest, which at one stage included the erection of a mock gallows, drew condemnation from several politicians.
Earlier, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said a review of security at Leinster House is to take place on Thursday following the events around Leinster House on Wednesday.
Who were the demonstrators outside Leinster House?
Crime and Security Correspondent Conor Gallagher writes:
The turnout – roughly 200 – was not substantial, even by the metrics of Ireland’s small far-right movement. What set it apart was the level of anger on display and the implicit and explicit threats of violence directed at politicians and Leinster House staff by some demonstrators.
Read the full analysis here.
Speaking in New York, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan said the Government would have to take on board security advice but should be careful not to undermine the characteristics of Ireland’s parliament.
It had “a fantastic open system, where people have access to their TDs and Senators” and non-violent protest could take place. “We should not undermine those characteristics,” he added.
Mr Ryan, however, acknowledged the need to protect Oireachtas members and workers at Leinster House and for the Garda Siochana, Oireachtas and relevant government departments to fully review security arrangements.
“It was shocking what I saw online. We cannot allow a very small number of people undermine our democratic system,” he said.
But he believed moves to create a clear or “sterile zone” on Kildare Street might not be the best option.
He said he would not like to see what had happened in other parliaments, which he believed took from their character and democratic process.
Threats are being made against politicians by people who have a history of violence and convictions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Speaking in Miami, Florida, he said a security review was under way at Leinster House and that in future there could be new restrictions put in place on access to the building.
Mr Varadkar said the threat risk against politicians had increased. He said this was the reason the Garda Commissioner had restored garda protection to a larger number of Ministers “because there are threats all the time”.
“Often they come from people who make idle threats or threats that are incredible. But increasingly, the briefings from the [Garda] Commissioner is that threats are being made against politicians and public figures by people who have histories of violence and have convictions. So that’s where it becomes more serious where the threats are being made by people who actually have a history of violence towards others.”
Mr Varadkar said free speech was important to democracy. However, he maintained that what he saw happening outside Leinster House on Wednesday was not peaceful protest.
“There was violence, there was intimidation. And that was wrong.”
Mr Varadkar said he know “something about” some of the protesters who were outside Leinster House on Wednesday. He said they had in the past been outside his own house.
Asked whether there should be stronger policing of such protests, the Taoiseach said: “There’s a way to police protests. And I know some people would like to see a more heavy-handed approach from the gardaí. That is not always the right approach. A lot of people in fringe groups, they are agent provocateurs.”
“They almost want there to be an excessive reaction. And I think the gardaí have to judge that and they judge it very well.”
Mr Varadkar said he understood security around Leinster House was already being reassessed.
“It is a really good thing that our parliament is very open place. I know when I go to other parliaments around the world, you know, there are functioning metal detectors, there is a much tighter security presence.”
“But I wouldn’t like to go down that road. You know, we are a small country were one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. Our politicians are very accessible. You know, I wouldn’t want that to change too quickly. But it is the case that there is a security review under way.”
“And we may just need to be a little bit more vigilant about who is let into the building and who is not.
“As you know, there was a few months ago, an incident where somebody broke into the building and carried out some vandalism.”
Tánaiste Micheál Martin has labelled the conduct of protesters at Wednesday’s demonstration at Leinster House as “fascist-like behaviour”, and warned that the political landscape in Ireland “getting more dangerous”.
In condemning the protest, Micheál Martin made reference to a vitriolic political atmosphere in the United Kingdom.
“The thing is getting more dangerous,” he said, speaking to reporters at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois. “We saw what happened in the United Kingdom, and the level and the vitriol and the nature of ... the presence of some people, is a grave cause for concern, but we have to really reflect on it as to how best we deal with it.
“There’s no doubt when you read some of the vitriol and hate speech on social media, there’s a new level the debate to debate, and many, many deputies and senators feel very intimidated by what is happening,” he said.
He said that some protesters were attempting to create “an alternative reality” with their form of protest.
“I think some of these people are trying to create an alternative reality in terms of the country undermining our democracy, and some of it almost approximates to sort of fascist-like behaviour in terms of intolerance, in terms of not allowing people to go in and out of a democratically elected parliament. It’s a very serious issue.”
He said that placards seen at the protest yesterday amounted to hate speech, referencing the recently-published hate speech Bill.
“When we reflect on some of the commentary in relation to the recently published hate bill, I think looking at some of these signs last evening, listening to some of the comments made, and it defines what we mean by hate speech, and by behaviour that incites hatred.”
Asked whether the introduction of a sterile zone at Leinster House was necessary or practical, Mr Martin said it was important to assert the right to walk the streets freely as citizens. He also spoke of the value of the level of access to public representatives in Ireland.
He linked the protest to recent demonstrations at libraries across the country, including the Tánaiste’s home city of Cork.
“We’ve seen other examples where library staff are being intimidated, where public property in the form of library books being torn up by certain groups as well.”
Nine of the people arrested at Wednesday’s far right protest outside Leinster House are due to appear before Dublin District Court on October 18th on a variety of public order charges, writes Conor Gallagher.
Most were detained by the Garda Public Order Unit while allegedly trying to block TDs and other staff from leaving the building.
They were taken to Pearse Street Garda station before being released on station bail.
Two other protesters appeared before the District Court on Wednesday.
People Before Profit condemns Dáil ‘tactics of intimidation’
People Before Profit has added its condemnation to the “tactics of intimidation” on display outside the Dáil yesterday.
In a statement, the party – citing the mock gallows on display at the protests on which were displayed pictures of its TDs Bríd Smith and Paul Murphy – said that the protest groups “want to create a fascist dictatorship over the dead bodies of left-wing TDs and elements of the establishment they have constructed as hate figures”.
“For too long it has been assumed that Ireland would remain immune to far right developments in the rest of the world. After yesterday’s mini re-enactment of a Trump style protest, we can no longer assume that,” its statement read.
People Before Profit said that the overall Garda strategy for policing protests should be questioned, claiming that left wing protests are handled in a very different manner to right wing events.
Minister for Justice would like to retain public access to Leinster House
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said she would not like to see a “sterile” zone around Leinster House as has been called for by the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer.
“We as politicians can come and go for that to change – we see it in many other countries where you can’t get near your parliament, would have no access at all.
“I would not like to see that happen and I would not like to see the actions of a few small people, a minority, to change that,” she told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.
“At the same time, we have to take it very seriously where somebody is threatened or where there is aggression in that way. And so the discussions today with our Ceann Comhairle and others, will, of course, be focused on what can we do to make sure that people feel safe coming in to work.”
Ms McEntee said she had been in Dublin from early on Wednesday and could see that Garda measures were in place for the protest which they had known about in advance, but as the situation escalated, gardaí had to respond.
The Minister said that people had a right to peaceful protest, but what happened on Wednesday was different from what happens outside Leinster House on a daily basis. “There was aggression, there was intimidation. And it has absolutely no place in a democratic society.
“Those people who came to Leinster House, be it at the front or the back, were not there to engage. They were not there to make a point or to get across media a message or to try and engage in a democratic way. They were there simply to be aggressive, to intimidate – not just ourselves as elected representatives, not just the gardaí, but also the people who are working and work there in Leinster House.”
The safety of public representatives was always a matter of concern and the current situation would be reviewed. The matter would be discussed by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner.
Urgency move to combat threat of violence under way – Donohoe
Protests at Leinster House on Wednesday represented an assault on representative democracy, the Minster for Public Expenditure has said, and stressed that the Government is moving with urgency to combat the threat of violence against politicians.
“There are always moments of tense political debates, and there are therefore frequently moments of legitimate protest, but what happened yesterday went well beyond that,” Paschal Donohoe said, speaking to reporters at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois.
“What we saw was a group of people making the case against the very concept of representative democracy, against the work of people who are elected to serve the people of Ireland.”
Mr Donohoe said that new measures, such as changes to the Oireachtas allowance system to help politicians upgrade the security of their constituency offices, have been introduced in recent months in response to the rising threat of violent protest.
“The urgency has been there in dealing with security issues for politicians in recent months,” he said.
While praising the “exceptional” response of An Garda Síochána to the protest under “trying circumstance”, Mr Donohoe noted that the force – along with other authorities at Leinster House – would re-evaluate security measures in place in the vicinity of Government buildings.
“Of course, have to look to the future, and see how these scenes can be managed, and how threat can be reduced in the future.”
The Minister said that he wanted to send a message to those considering a career in politics, not to be deterred by Wednesday’s protests.
“What happened yesterday is rare, I believe it will be rare again in the future.
“Politics is a very demanding life, but it’s very, very rewarding and you have the opportunity to serve your community and do your bit by your country.”
Ceann Comhairle tells Dáil protests were ‘a fundamental attack on democracy’
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said what happened outside Leinster House on Wednesday was “without precedent” and “a fundamental attack on democracy”.
“The people out there appear to me to have had nothing to offer, only the promotion of hate,” he said in the Dáil on Thursday.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl said he would be meeting with the Assistant Commissioner this afternoon. He said 1,200 people work in Leinster House, 220 of them politicians and that the people who suffered abuse on Wednesday “came from all walks of life” – civil servants, political staff, political advisers and journalists.
“What happened was particularly vile and vicious, and the people who are involved in that, they offer nothing of any benefit to any cause they might espouse, however worthwhile or questionable, more likely to be questionable, the cause they serve,” he said.
The Ceann Comhairle said a taskforce set up last year looking at safe participation in public life would be bringing forward proposals by the end of December.
“We can never see again happen what happened outside yesterday because it is an attack on democracy and if unchallenged and allowed to proceed, it will bring us to a point that we saw in the United States in the aftermath of the last presidential election,” he added. “So it can’t be allowed to continue.”
Mr Ó Fearghaíl also said that there was a security allowance for politicians though there had been “very little uptake” of it.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said what happened on Wednesday “was not a protest” but “thuggish behaviour” and “an attack on democracy”. – Sarah Burns
‘It makes you wonder what trajectory are we on?’
Commenting on yesterday’s events, Independent TD Cathal Berry said: “Exit and egress [from parliament] should be an absolute given in any democracy. That’s not just for elected representatives but also for staff and visitors.
“There were other legitimate protests due to take place yesterday but they couldn’t.”
“It makes you wonder what trajectory are we on? What if someone there had a knife? Will it require a tragedy like in the UK for action?” the Kildare South TD said.
Mr Berry said he “very much welcomed” the security review taking place and that “maybe a more sterile zone around Leinster House as suggested by the Ceann Comhairle is the answer. That’s probably the most likely outcome.”
He added: “There is no concern about security in the interior where there are Army and Garda are on call at all times. It’s the exterior where there is a concern.” – Conor Gallagher
Senior gardaí to meet Oireachtas members to discuss security approach, McEntee says
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said senior gardaí will be meeting members of the Oireachtas today to discuss the policing and security approach around Leinster House following yesterday’s protests.
In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) Ms McEntee said what happened on Wednesday “has no place in our democracy”.
“While we will always protect the right to peaceful protest, what we saw yesterday was the intimidation and threatening of elected representatives and members of An Garda Síochána doing their work on behalf of the people and the State.”
She said she had spoken to the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Superintendent in Pearse Street, and noted a number of arrests had been made.
She continued to say the Assistant Commissioner for the Dublin Metropolitan Region, along with Gardaí from Pearse Street station, “will be meeting with the Oireachtas today to discuss the policing and security approach around Leinster House.
“An Garda Síochána will fully engage with the Oireachtas as part of a review of security around the Leinster House campus.”
‘Safe zone’ around Leinster House may be considered, says Ó Fearghaíl
The idea of setting up a “safe zone” around Leinster House, where there would be specific restrictions over the type of activities that would be tolerated, was one idea that might have to be looked at, the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl said.
Mr O’Fearghail said he had been contacted last night and this morning by politicians and staff who told him how concerned they were and spoke of the need to “ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again and doesn’t get out of hand and that some action is taken”.
The Fianna Fáil politician said a member of his staff who left Leinster House to attend a funeral was pursued up the street and shouted at repeatedly and called a traitor, while he had heard of a woman member of staff who was shouted at and abused after she left Leinster House. At one stage she thought she was going to be hit after the person who was shouting abuse at her raised his hand, Mr O’Fearghail said.
What happened outside Leinster House on Wednesday was unlike anything that had been seen in the past, Mr O’Fearghail said, but it was because something of this nature had been anticipated that a taskforce to look at safe participation in public life was established in May, he said.
Asked what could be done to stop people being harassed on the streets around Leinster House, Mr O’Fearghail said there might be a role for the type “safe zones” that have been suggested for hospitals, with controls on protests in their vicinity.
“This is an area requiring very cautious consideration, very careful consideration. The type of protest that can take place – so if the protest is one that is going to involve incitement to violence, incitement to hatred, abuse and vilification of individuals, without any shred of justification, then it is hard to see why or how that can be tolerated on any future occasion.”
He said the review established in May that is being carried out by a group headed by former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is looking at a broad spectrum of issues, including online abuse. His meeting today in Leinster House will decide whether more immediate measures are required or if further meetings with An Garda are required as a matter of urgency.
Asked how dangerous he thought the situation was, Mr O’Fearghail said he believed some of the people involved in Wednesday’s events were not very stable, adding they had been involved in shouting abuse at people and threatening their lives.
“How long can you go on tolerating that? How long can that continue before something very serious happens?” he said.
“We don’t want to see ourselves arriving at the point that we saw in Washington DC after the last presidential elections. We don’t want to see happening in Ireland what happened to Jo Cox or Lord David Amess. That would be unthinkable.”
Ms Cox and Mr Amess are UK politicians who were murdered by people who objected to their political activities. Ms Cox was killed by a man who said “Britain first” as he committed the crime.
Far-right groups attempting to spread a message of hate, says Labour leader
On Newstalk Breakfast Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik described the protest as “profoundly anti-democratic”.
Ms Bacik said the protesters prevented other peaceful demonstrations from going ahead, and that she knew of at least two other planned political events that had to be cancelled on Wednesday due to the safety risk.
The Labour leader said she supported a call for a review of security arrangements, not just of the protest that took place on Wednesday but also of threatening and intimidating behaviour online.
Ms Bacik said she had seen protests in the past spill over into “obstructive, threatening, intimidating events” but yesterday’s events indicated that far-right groups were attempting to spread a message of hate.
It was a cause for concern that such groups were attempting to “stoke racism” on social media platforms – which made it important for such platforms to “take much more proactive steps to prevent attacks and indeed to take down disinformation”, she said.
“We need to review how we can ensure a safe entry and exit from the Parliament, from the building,” Ms Bacik said.
Independent TD Micheal Healy-Rae has said there was no place in society for the “racist” language used by the protesters.
Mr Healy-Rae told Newstalk radio’s Hard Shoulder he had no problem with people saying that “politicians are doing no good” and protesting outside the Dáil but there had been no need to escalate to that level of violence.
“There is no need to be shouting dirty language. The language they were using and what I would call the racist language – we should have no place in society for that.”
Senator Jerry Buttimer, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, called for a “sterile area” around Leinster House to protect members of staff, allowing them to move freely in and out.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Mr Buttimer said that the protest on Wednesday was an attack on democracy, by a “group of thugs”.
“It wasn’t about a political party or a government. It was about everybody. It was about institutions of the State. And that is why we as parliamentarians – but also those of us who work in the media, those who are citizens of a republic – must ensure that the small minority do nothing to further their aims by preventing people from doing their work,” he said.
Mr Buttimer added that in the six years he has been in Leinster House, he has never witnessed the behaviour and thuggery he seen yesterday, but that because of proactivity by gardaí, “nobody was seriously injured or even killed”.
The executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the protests had crossed the line with regard to incitement to violence.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Liam Herrick said although there is a right to peacefully protest, “yesterday was not a peaceful protest. They’re entitled to hold up banners, even if the banners are offensive. Absolutely. There’s no question about that.
“But if you start threatening and exercising violence, missiles were thrown at Michael Healy-Rae and other people. And if you also protest to the extent that other people cannot exercise their rights and members of the Oireachtas to take part in our national parliament, the electorate to be represented, journalists to provide a free press or indeed workers to safely go about their workplace.
“There were certainly identifiable political groups that were involved in organising yesterday’s protest that incited that crowd and led to serious violence. And it’s been happening now for a while. I think we have a major question, though, about how we respond to what are very small groups,” Mr Herrick said.
“There was less than 200 people there yesterday. These people do not enjoy widespread public support. They have no democratic mandate, but they are intent on violence against public institutions.”
Mr Herrick added he would not blame the gardaí for yesterday’s events, as they were also targets, but he said he thinks “there is a question about the intelligence of the guards about these groups, and if they had enough resources yesterday or if there were tactical questions, if they could manage that better, which I’m sure they will review.”
In a statement on Wednesday night, An Garda Síochána said its officers were required to intervene during public order incidents on Molesworth Street, Kildare Street and Merrion Street “on a number of occasions”.
Placards were displayed during the event depicting politicians such as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald as “traitors”, while some chanted “Irish lives matter” and “Ireland for the Irish”.
Although gardaí kept the demonstrators away from the main entrance to Leinster House, some politicians were surrounded by crowds as they entered or left the building, forcing gardaí to intervene and usher them to safety.