What led to the Dublin riots and what does it mean for Ireland?

Ireland’s prime minister has condemned anti-immigrant protesters who rampaged through central Dublin after three young children were stabbed, ITV News Correspondent Louise Scott reports

Words by James Hockaday, ITV News Multimedia Producer

Dublin is now picking up the pieces after a mob stormed the city centre on Thursday night – looting shops and setting cars, buses and a tram ablaze.

Gardai were pelted with bottles and chairs grabbed from outside bars and restaurants as they tried to bring the volatile situation under control.

Some 34 people were arrested over what Ireland's police described as "gratuitous thuggery" – 32 of whom are due in court today.

Justice minister Helen McEntee saying those responsible for the destruction would be "dealt with appropriately" – but the tensions leading to last night's chaos haven't gone away.

Trouble brewed in Ireland's capital after three children and a woman who was caring for them were stabbed close to an Irish language primary school at around lunchtime.

A damaged Luas tram with smashed windows on O'Connell Street on Friday morning. Credit: PA

Garda are yet to confirm the identity of the alleged attacker, but unconfirmed reports of his nationality appear to have fuelled last night's rioters, who Garda commissioner Drew Harris described as a "lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology".

While we don't know exactly who was behind Thursday afternoon's stabbings, it appears to have made anti-immigrant sentiment in Ireland hit boiling point. Here's what we know so far.

The attack

Three children and a woman who was caring for them were stabbed on Thursday at around 1.30pm at Parnell Square East.

The attack took place close to Irish language medium primary school Gaelscoil Cholaiste Mhuire, with members of the public intervening – including Brazilian Deliveroo driver Caio Benicio, who hit the knifeman with his helmet. A five-year-old girl underwent emergency treatment for serious injuries. The woman was also seriously injured while the two other children, a five-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, suffered less serious injuries.

Deliveroo driver Caio Benicio intervened by hitting the knifeman with his motorcycle helmet. Credit: PA

Garda said a man who sustained serious injuries at the scene is a person of interest in their investigation. Initially, the force said they were “satisfied there is no terrorist link” to the stabbings but at an evening press conference Mr Harris stopped short of definitively ruling out a terrorist motive. “I have never ruled out any possible motive for this attack… all lines of inquiry are open to determine the motive for this attack,” he said.

Unsubstantiated reports of the attackers nationality swirled around social media.

The Irish Times said the "chief suspect is understood to be a naturalised Irish citizen, who has lived here for 20 years". Police are yet to comment on the suspect's identity and no charges have been made yet.

The rioting

A group of anti-immigrant protesters broke through a police barrier at 6pm in the city centre, leading to an escalation of violence which saw 13 shops significantly damaged or looted.

Cars, buses, trams and at least one Garda vehicle were burned, flares and fireworks were set off and missiles were lobbed at riot police.

Mr Harris said order was restored between 8.30pm and 9pm, but that numerous officers had sustained injuries from the violence.

Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said while the scenes in Dublin were shocking, Garda “contained this for the most part to a very small area”.

A bus on fire on O'Connell Street in Dublin city centre. Credit: PA

She added: “This was a violent mob of thugs and criminals whose sole focus was to wreak havoc, and it is a very volatile situation. “There were a huge number of gardai who were assaulted, who were spat at, who were the victims of vitriol and hate themselves."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said an estimated 500 people were involved in the disorder, which saw 11 Garda cars damaged. Asked about the level of damage at a meeting of the British-Irish Council at Dublin Castle, he said: “We don’t have a figure on it yet, but it’s likely to be in the tens of millions, rather than the millions.

How did we get here?

Commissioner Harris said there had been an "element of radicalisation" to the riot sparked by "hateful assumptions" made based on material circulating online after the attack.

"What is clear that people have been radicalised through social media," the police chief added.

Thursday's rioting happened under a backdrop anti-immigration rhetoric which has been mounting in Ireland in recent years.

The financial crash saw construction in Ireland plummet, and in more recent years, the Covid-19 pandemic saw an "unprecedented" fall in residential projects "comfortably surpassing the previous steepest fall" in 2008, according to Ulster Bank's construction purchasing managers' index.

A burned out bus is removed from O'Connell Street in the aftermath of Thursday's violence. Credit: PA

While building has started to pick up, a long period of undersupply has driven up prices and rent, while Ireland's government has fallen behind on its social housing building targets.

A recent assessment by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council said that while construction can keep pace with rising population, it isn't enough to address the stock's shortfall.

The watchdog said "significant immigration of building workers" could help address the issue, but immigrants are taking much of the blame among segments of the public.

In the 12 months to the end of April 2023, the population rose by 97,600 people which was the largest 12-month increase since 2008, according to Ireland's Central Statistics Office.

An influx of 141,600 immigrants was a 14-year high, and the second successive 12-month period where over 100,000 people had immigrated to Ireland.

Riot police clashed with protesters as violence spilled into central Dublin. Credit: PA

Of those people, 29,600 were returning Irish citizens, 26,100 were other EU citizens, and 4,800 were UK citizens, and 81,100 were from other countries - including nearly 42,000 Ukrainians.

A chronic housing shortage, a rise in immigration has proven a perfect storm, with an unprecedented wave in protests over the past two years, mainly against asylum seekers and refugees.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue says this has been compounded by "rumours and racially-charged fears percolating through social media platforms", leading to "doxxing, harassment and vigilante-style assault of migrants".

The think-tank said these rumours included TikTok videos repeating "unverified claims of attacks and sexual assaults against women, men and children allegedly perpetrated by migrants".

This increasingly hostile atmosphere saw men with dogs, sticks and a baseball bat attack a migrant camp in Ashtown, north Dublin, the Irish Times reported, with men in balaclavas shouting: “Pack up and get out now".

In May protesters blockaded a hotel housing asylum seekers in Co Clare, prompting some residents to leave for the capital.

Ireland's parliament, the Dáil, was put on lockdown in September after a group of 200 protesters, including some prominent far-right figures, surrounded the buildings and subjected staff and media to threats and abuse.

What happens now?

Given the scale of Thursday's rioting, Commissioner Harris said: “We have to make the assumption that we’ll see further such protests.”

He said there would be a “fundamental review of our public order tactics, given the amount of violence” and stressed there will be “significant organisation and mobilisation” to prevent any further violence in the city. “We cannot allow the city to be given over to the thugs, the looters and the arsonists,” he added.

In a sign that the situation isn't about to calm down anytime soon, Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor said: "We are not backing down, we are only warming up."

Posting on X, formerly Twitter, he said: "There will be no backing down until real change is implemented for the safety of our nation.

"We are not losing any more of our woman and children to sick and twisted people who should not even be in Ireland in the first place. Call it what you want. We do not care. May God help us all. Ireland for victory."

Meanwhile concerns remain for the safety of people from minority ethnic backgrounds and migrants in Ireland, with Cork-based migrant and refugee centre Nasc saying in a statement: "The displaced aggression spewed at ethnic minorities and migrants is deeply disturbing and dangerous – public reps and authorities need to ensure that this cycle is not perpetuated, so that public safety can be prioritised and restored. "People are feeling afraid and unwelcome in their own homes today. It is particularly important at this time that we show kindness to ourselves, and that we show respect within and across our communities."

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