THERE was mayhem and widespread disruption on Dublin streets this evening as protesters brought evening rush-hour traffic to a standstill, blocking off the main thoroughfare of O'Connell Bridge.
Three people were arrested and three protesters were taken to hospital during a series of protests.
Two of them were 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 main body of the protest involved people who were predominantly voicing their concerns about austerity, but it was hijacked by a hardcore republican element.
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 nearby streets.
Earlier this evening, Gardai were forced to use pepper spray this evening after protesters attempted to storm the Dail.
Two men were taken injured after the anti-austerity protestors tried to breach a Garda cordon set up on Kildare Street.
The disturbances started when some protestors attempted to bypass the first cordon on the junction of Kildare and Molesworth Street.
A number or them ran through Buswells Hotel, exiting through a side door leading on Kildare Street and header for the gates of Leinster House.
This lead others to try and breach the barrier, leading gardai to push back and use pepper spray.
The Garda public order and horse and dog units were also on the scene, as were riot vans.
The protests later spread to Dublin's O'Connell Bridge with demonstrators sitting down, stopping traffic in both directions.
That continued peacefully until shortly before 7pm this evening when the 300 or so protesters began to march back towards the Dail where a further 200 approximately remained from earlier.
Speeches were held outside the Dail for about an hour before proceedings started to wind up.
The garda riot squad kept a close eye on proceedings. There was a heavy garda presence outside the Dail when the protestors returned this evening.
The protests led to traffic meltdown in Dublin city centre tonight, with large parts of the city experiencing gridlock in the evening rush hour.
The quays near O'Connell Bridge re-opened after the protests but experienced significant delays for the early part of the evening.
Throughout the day the return of the Dail after its summer break was marked by angry protests across Dublin’s city centre with even Sinn Fein getting targeted.
Earlier, protesters had gathered outside the Dail on Kildare Street, where Gardai had erected steel barriers to ensure that there could be no breach of the gates of Leinster House.
But the protesters reacted to the high security by going on a long march around the city centre with the Gardai following closely behind on foot, on motorbike and in squad cars. A small number of them blocked traffic and the Luas by lying down on the streets temporarily – causing snarl-ups of buses, lorries and cars on O’Connell Bridge.
The most militant protesters were from the “Irish Republican Voice” group – formed earlier this year to oppose ‘British rule” in the North. With chants of “Labour, Labour, Labour, out, out, out” and “Kenny, Kenny, Kenny, out, out, out”, the marchers made it clear they were not fans of the Coalition Government.
But they also briefly invaded the Sinn Fein book shop on Parnell Street, chanting “Sinn Fein, shame on you”. And as they took over the city streets temporarily, they charged into the GPO on O’Connell Street – the location of the 1916 Rising – under the gaze of bemused tourists.
“Join the protest” was the chant, but very few passers-by took up the invitation. The protesters eventually made their way back to the Dail, where over 20 Gardai were waiting for them.
However, many protesters were at pains to emphasise that they were not members of any republican groups and were marching against austerity because of their own personal situations.
Helen Murray, who described herself as “One Angry Mother” on her placard, said the protests would be bigger except for the fact that people did not want to admit they were ‘skint’. The lone parent with three children from Kilkenny said she was almost finished a multi-media degree but was sending CVs to garages and delicatessens to get work.
“We’re hard-working people but a lot of us are under stress,” she said.
Helen, from Woodlawn, near Ballinasloe, said she wanted all the TDs in the Dail to “get out”.
“I have five daughters, one of them has done a PhD in science and she can’t get a job in this country,” she said.
Mark Griffin (32), a father-of-two from Limerick, said he lost his carpentry business employing several workers when the recession hit. He said everyone was p*ssed off with the Government telling them the country had turned the corner
“The whole set up is a disgrace. They’ve just had two or three months holidays and they’re laughing at us, selling us out to Europe,” he said.
Donal Guillfoyle (52) from Clonmel in Tipperary said the Government was being dictated to by the European Central Bank.
“We don’t want a riot, we don’t want trouble, we just want a people’s democracy. People are fed up with austerity,” he said.
Fiach Kelly and Michael Brennan