THERE was mayhem and widespread disruption on Dublin streets as protesters brought evening rush-hour traffic to a standstill, blocking off the main thoroughfare of O'Connell Bridge.
Security remained tight late into the night outside the Dail, where the gathering had begun and where it ended.
The main body of the protest involved people who were predominantly voicing their concerns about austerity, but it was hijacked by a hardcore republican element.
Three people were arrested and three protesters were taken to hospital, two of them injured by pepper spray used by gardai in the earlier protest at the Dail. A third man fell over a fence during the disturbance.
The O'Connell Street demonstration was generally peaceful but left thousands of passers-by frustrated.
Several double-decker buses were marooned on the bridge and passengers were forced to disembark, while gridlock spread to the streets around the busy thoroughfare.
Angry protests outside the Dail earlier saw gardai use pepper spray against a small number who attempted to bypass the first cordon on the junction of Kildare Street and Molesworth Street.
The Dail resumed yesterday after the summer recess and there was a significant garda presence in and around Kildare Street from dawn.
There were clashes at about 4.30pm, when a number of protesters tried to break through the garda barrier.
A smaller group left the Dail to march down O'Connell Street, where they came to a halt at the bridge shortly before 5.30pm.
They were then joined by more until about 300 people were at the scene.
Some passers-by were supportive, although the majority were furious at having their travel home seriously disrupted.
There were angry scenes as workers attempting to get home became involved in heated arguments with protesters.
There were claims that among those trapped in the city centre gridlock was a hungry three-month-old baby.
Student Sinead Williams from Dundalk had been on her way to UCD but had to abandon her bus after a short journey had taken 40 minutes.
She was scathing of the protesters. "They don't even know what they're protesting about," she said.
The protest finally moved up to the Dail again, with some protesters claiming that they had been threatened with the riot squad if they did not move.
Politics then took over again, with Richard Boyd Barrett taking the microphone at the Dail and more heated elements of the demonstration evaporated.
Among those peacefully protesting at the Dail was grieving Priory Hall resident Stephanie Meehan, whose partner took his own life following the stress of the ordeal. She explained that she had received so much support for her own cause that she wanted to give something back.Earlier in the day, the focus had firmly been on the Government, with chants of "Labour, Labour, Labour, out, out, out" and "Kenny, Kenny, Kenny, out, out, out" around the Dail.But protesters also briefly invaded the Sinn Fein book shop on Parnell Square, chanting: "Sinn Fein, shame on you." And as they took over the city streets, they charged into the GPO on O'Connell Street.
Many protesters emphasised that they were not members of any republican groups.
Helen Murray, from Woodlawn, near Ballinasloe, Co Galway, who described herself on her placard as "one angry mother" said the protests would have been bigger but people did not want to admit they were "skint".
Mark Griffin (32), a father of two from Limerick, said he lost his carpentry business when the recession hit. He said everyone was fed up "with the Government telling them the country had turned the corner".
Donal Guillfoyle (52), from Clonmel in Tipperary, said the Government was being dictated to by the European Central Bank.
"People are fed up with austerity," he added.
By Nicola Anderson and Michael Brennan