Riots cease in Dublin against Unionist march

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Republican rioter throws a traffic cone at gardaí (Policemen) in Dublin.

An Garda Síochána have regained control in Dublin, Ireland following riots in which a Republican counter-demonstration against Loyalist marches in the city descended into violence that engulfed the city centre. Shops on some of Dublin's major thoroughfares including O'Connell Street, Nassau Street and Kildare Street were closed as the Garda Riot Squad moved in from Grafton Street, and hundreds of shoppers were caught up in the disturbance.

40 protesters have been arrested, and 14 people have been hospitalised, including RTÉ News main correspondent Charlie Bird, and six gardaí. 13 of the arrested will be dealt with tonight during a special sitting of Dublin District Court.

The riots, which have been described as the worst that Dublin has seen in a quarter of a century, broke out at 12.45 pm. About 1,000 Loyalist protestors, including members of the Orange Order, had travelled from Northern Ireland in order to march from Parnell Street down to Leinster House (the seat of the Irish parliament) on Kildare Street.

The march never got underway, however; the protesters were transported to the location by bus following a consultation with gardaí that suggested a march would be unsafe. The march was intended to commemorate victims of Republican paramilitary activity.

Loyalist protesters proceeded to demonstrate outside Leinster House for a short time, but the parade was cancelled as around 300 Republican protestors from across Ireland moved onto Kildare Street. Gardaí ordered major premises to shut as the violence increased. Missiles, fireworks, petrol bombs, and rubble and tools from a building site on O'Connell Street were thrown by Republican protestors onto gardaí. As the rioting proceeded, looting broke out, the Loyalist protesters were advised to leave the region, and cars were burned out between Kildare Street and O'Connell Street.

Political figures, led by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, and including leaders of major political parties from across Ireland's political spectrum such as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Irish Labour Party, Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic Labour Party have condemned the violence. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has commented that "It is the essence of Irish democracy and republicanism that people are allowed to express their views freely and in a peaceful manner. People who want only to attack gardaí and property have no respect for their fellow citizens."

Unionist politicians due to participate in the rally, including Democratic Unionist Party MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy, have issued a complaint to the Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, who has admitted that An Garda Síochána were not expecting the level of hostility that was realised. Mr McDowell has also commented that the riots were perpetrated by people who did not understand what Irish republicanism means and who have damaged the cause of Irish unity that they purported to support.

Republican Sinn Féin, a party which split from the main body of Sinn Féin in 1986 and which had been involved in the organisation of the counter-demonstration, have declared that it was irresponsible for the authorities to allow the marches to go ahead. It is believed that around €50,000 will be necessary to clear up and repair the damage caused to O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare, and the street will remain closed until tomorrow. It is feared that the riots will have a significant impact on the Northern Ireland peace process, and on plans by the Irish government to recommence annual commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising.