Garda have condemned as “gratuitous thuggery” rioting that broke out in Dublin city centre in the aftermath of a knife attack which left three young children and a woman injured. Angry impromptu protests in the aftermath of Thursday afternoon’s attack outside a school on Parnell Square East in the north inner city spiraled into a night of violence and disorder as buses, trams and at least one Garda vehicle were burned and a shop was looted on one of Dublin’s most famous throughfares, O’Connell Street. There were clashes with riot police as some demonstrators let off flares and fireworks, while others flung chairs and stools grabbed from outside bars and restaurants. A police cordon was set up around the Irish parliament building, Leinster House, late on Thursday night with officers from the Garda Mounted Support Unit in nearby Grafton Street, amid concerns the violence may have spread to the seat of Ireland’s democratic institutions.
Shortly before midnight, gardai said calm had been restored in the city.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris blamed a “complete lunatic faction driven by far-right ideology” for the disorder. The trouble came after shocking scenes around lunchtime on Thursday when three children and a woman who was caring for them were stabbed close to Irish language medium primary school Gaelscoil Cholaiste Mhuire. 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.
Gardai said a man who sustained serious injuries at the scene is a person of interest in their investigation. Initially, gardai 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. More than 400 gardai were involved in efforts to quell the subsequent evening of disorder in nearby streets.
Garda Chief Superintendent Patrick McMenamin said some members of the force had been attacked and assaulted. He said no serious injuries had been reported by gardai or members of the public. Mr McMenamin said the thoughts of the police service were with the victims of the assault in Parnell Square earlier in the day. Speaking about the riot, he said: “The violence had nothing whatsoever to do with a serious assault which occurred this afternoon on Parnell Square, it was gratuitous thuggery.”
Irish President Michael D Higgins said his thoughts were with those injured in the stabbing. He said: “This appalling incident is a matter for the gardai and that it would be used or abused by groups with an agenda that attacks the principle of social inclusion is reprehensible and deserves condemnation by all those who believe in the rule of law and democracy.” Irish Justice Minister Helen McEntee labelled the scenes of disorder “intolerable” and said a “thuggish and manipulative element must not be allowed to use an appalling tragedy to wreak havoc”. “We will not tolerate a small number using an appalling incident to spread division,” she said.
Earlier, Irish premier Leo Varadkar and deputy premier Micheal Martin extended their thoughts to those injured in the stabbing attack. A Garda public order unit was deployed near the crime scene cordon around Parnell Square and O’Connell Street around 6.30pm as protesters started to scuffle with officers and flares and fireworks were thrown at the Garda line. As the violence escalated, a Garda car was set alight, a Luas tram and several buses on O’Connell Street were set on fire, and a bus and car were torched on O’Connell Bridge. Rioters looted a Foot Locker store in O’Connell Steet as bottles were thrown at gardai on the landmark street. In a series of co-ordinated presses, gardai dispersed a large portion of the crowd onto nearby roads. Smoke from bus and car fires filled the air while a Garda helicopter monitored the situation from overhead. Dublin Fire Brigade responded to the fires that broke out. Speaking to media at Mountjoy Garda Station on Thursday evening, Commissioner Harris called for calm and spoke out against the spreading of misinformation. He said some individuals were using a tragic event “for their own ends… and a hooligan faction who are only interested in causing damage and mayhem in the city centre and they’re using the opportunity for that as well”. “I think there’s disgraceful scenes in terms of a major investigation, the maintenance of a scene and the gathering of evidence,” he said. “We have a complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology, and also then this disruptive tendency engaged in serious violence.”
The council meeting will resume at 2pm on Thursday.
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