There have been calls for an inquiry after a sectarian march through the heart of Dublin resulted in widespread rioting and disorder on Saturday.

An attempted parade by the so-called ‘Love Ulster’ group, involving flag-waving unionist paramilitary flute bands and members of the anti-Catholic Orange Order, resulted in pitched battles on O’Connell St, which later spread to Kildare St and the Liffey quays.

Remarkably, Garda police appeared to have little or no plan to deal with the inevitable consequences of the highly contentious parade down Ireland’s main thoroughfare.

Protests by the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Republican Sinn Féin near the General Post Office were peaceful but unmarshalled.

Some of those gathered carried printed placards bearing the names of people who died just a short distance away in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings more than 30 years ago.

“I’m here to demonstrate, to show my solidarity with the rest of the Republican people,” said IRSP member Denis Murphy.

Asked whether he thought many people in Dublin were bothered by the proposed Love Ulster march, he said those who weren’t were “the non-thinking people”.

A New Yorker studying in Dublin said he had come because he was opposed to sectarianism.

“I think it’s ridiculous that they can march through here after everything that’s gone on in Northern Ireland and Ireland in general,” said Tim Putzke.

Another local man said the proposed unionist march was “a bloody disgrace”. “Do you think we would be allowed march up in Portadown? Civil rights? It’s a bleedin’ disgrace. I’m going mad standing here. The people of the Six Counties are getting walked on for years.”

It was clear from an early stage that efforts by republican organisations to hold sit-down protests could be swamped by violent confrontations.

Further up the street, young men wore tricolours around their shoulders and scarves around their faces to mask their identities.

The sound of booming Lambeg drums could be heard from around the corner in Parnell Street, and loyalists waved British flag and banners in preparation for the march, increasing the tension. Despite the roads being clear, however, the parade failed to move off.

As time passed, riot police moved in to challenge about 200 militant young protestors on the side of the street near the Parnell monument near the top of O’Connell Street. A baton charge by the police quickly precipitated a riot.

As the situation deteriorated, increasing numbers of local youths became involved. The clashes were fuelled by a battery of ammunition available in the form of construction materials left unattended on O’Connell Street, where refurbishments were taking place. A small number of petrol bombs were also thrown.

Loyalists who had unfurled flag and banners were quickly returned to their busses and driven to Leinster House, the seat of the Dublin parliament, where a token parade was planned.

The violence then moved in that direction, with clashes involving rioters nad police who had blocked off the entrance to Kildare St.

The rioters were then forced up Nassau St in the direction of Grafton St and Westmoreland St where further clashes took place.

As the general disorder spread and Garda police became overwhelemed, a small amount of looting and random physical attacks were reported. One television reporter claimed to have been assaulted.

A number of vehicles were burned, and shops including the headquarters of the Progressive Democrats party, were damaged.

Shoppers, children and bemused tourists were caught up in a stampede at the top of Grafton St before the situation stabilised.

Some accounts suggested that there was no real plan to hold a loyalist parade. Only 110 loyalists showed up in Dublin on Saturday and they had “no intention” of marching, a human-rights lawyer has claimed.

Belfast lawyer Padraigin Drinan was accompanying an official observer from Washington DC when riots broke out. Ms Drinan said much of the violence could have been avoided if gardai had made sure the small parade began on time.

“I counted 110 people congregated at Parnell Square. They were beating Lambeg drums and marching on the spot. It was clear they had no intention of parading down O’Connell Street. With such a small number, they would have looked pathetic.

“The march was supposed to leave at 12.30pm and, at that time, the roads were clear. At 12.45pm, I asked a Garda officer why it hadn’t and received no reply. At around the same time, the first signs of trouble were occurring. If the parade left at 12.30pm, the trouble may not have been as bad,” she said.

Ms Drinan said that, contrary to many media reports, much of the fighting had erupted after local Dubliners were forced off O’Connell Street and down adjoining side streets by gardai.

“I saw hundreds of middle-aged local people jostle aggressively with Garda officers after being forced down side streets. They weren’t the type you would associate with a riot,” she said.

The lawyer was also critical of what she called Sinn Féin’s “blanket denunciations” of the violence.

“To call the actions of protesters ‘disgraceful’ is off the mark. Sinn Féin can’t go around condemning ordinary people in Dublin for their response to an extremely provocative march and a mishandled Garda response to it,” she said.

Garda figures said eight civilians and six gardai were injured. A total of 41 people were arrested, almost all Dublin residents and including a handful of foreign nationals.


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described the actions of those responsible for rioting as “entirely wrong and reprehensible”. Mr. Adams said there was no justification for what happened.

Sinn Féin had appealed to people to ignore this loyalist parade and not to be provoked by it. “Our view was that it should not be opposed in any way and we made that clear,” he said.

“Regrettably a small, unrepresentative group, chose to ignore our appeal. Their actions were entirely wrong and reprehensible.”

However, independent observer and lawyer Padraigin Drinan was critical of what she called Sinn Féin’s “blanket denunciations” of the violence.

“To call the actions of protesters ‘disgraceful’ is off the mark. Sinn Féin can’t go around condemning ordinary people in Dublin for their response to an extremely provocative march and a mishandled Garda response to it,” she said.

All the establishment parties strongly condemned the violence with 26-County Prime Minister Bertie Ahern saying there was “absolutely no excuse for the disgraceful scenes”.

British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said people had the right to protest peacefully, but it was very important they also worked together rather than “provoke each other”.

Willie Frazer, of the victims’ group Fair who took part in Saturday’s rally, said no decision had been made on whether another parade would be staged in the future.

“We will have to reflect on what actually took place and consider that because we are not the type of people who give up, 35 years of terrorism has not deterred us,” he said.

A group representing the police and politicians from all the major parties in the 26 Counties have called for an independent inquiry into how events in Dublin were handled.

But Dublin’s justice minister has ruled out a public inquiry into the events. Michael McDowell said that gardai would carry out an “operational investigation” and learn from what happened.

“Dublin is a peaceful prosperous capital of a liberal open society,” he said on Monday.

“We cannot have a situation where a group of thugs prevent some people from exercising their civil liberties, but insist that O’Connell Street and the GPO is always available for their macabre demonstrations whenever they want to have them.”

Republican Sinn Féin Vice-President Des Dalton said the the events only served to illustrate how “out of touch” the 26-County political establishment was with the depth of opposition to the routing of a loyalist march through Dublin.

“Indeed 26-County Justice Minister Michael McDowell’s willingness to meet with the organisers of this march while at the same time refusing to meet with the relatives of those killed in the British-directed loyalist Dublin and Monaghan bombs or the relatives of the Stardust tragedy, only serves to further highlight the gulf that exists between the 26-County political establishment and the views of ordinary Irish people.

“The people of Dublin have shown their rejection of the ideology of sectarian hatred and bigotry represented by those who organised this march. The routing of such a march through Dublin was a completely irresponsible act with scant thought given to the consequences or the dangers it posed to people.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News