Sunday 15 September 2019

New laws to target 'frightening' dissident marches after Lyra McKee's murder

Saoradh parade was an insult to the Irish people, says Taoiseach

‘Frightening’: The colour party stops in front of the GPO on Saturday. photo: tony gavin
‘Frightening’: The colour party stops in front of the GPO on Saturday. photo: tony gavin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

New laws will have to be drawn up to prevent future demonstrations by dissident republicans on our streets.

Gardaí were powerless to stop a group viewed as the ‘political wing’ of the New IRA from holding a demonstration outside the GPO over the Easter weekend.

There has been widespread condemnation of the event, which occurred less than 48 hours after journalist Lyra McKee was murdered in Derry.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the actions of Saoradh were “beneath contempt”. He pointed to the words of the 1916 proclamation, saying those involved in dissident activity “dishonour the flag through cowardice or inhumanity”.

A poster at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
A poster at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019

Despite the uproar, the republican group Saoradh was able to stage another parade in Cork yesterday.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe told the Irish Independent he found the sight of men and women in fake military fatigue “absolutely frightening”.

The Colour Party leads off the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
The Colour Party leads off the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019

“Everybody condemns it but we have to go further than just condemning it. We have to prevent this from happening in the future,” Mr Kehoe said.

He said Government, local authorities and An Garda Síochána must come together to find a way of balancing the right to demonstrate with a desire not to be "dragged back to an era that we do not want to go back to".

The Colour Party marches along O’Connell Street during the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
The Colour Party marches along O’Connell Street during the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Gardaí were aware a march, which was publicised on social media, was planned for Saturday afternoon.

There was a visible Garda presence in the city centre and plain clothes officers mingled among bank holiday shoppers and tourists.

The Colour Party outside the GPO at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
The Colour Party outside the GPO at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019

But as only 150 people showed up for the parade, a decision was taken not to try to prevent it going ahead.

Although groups planning on any public assembly are asked to alert gardaí in advance, Saoradh did not.

Supporters lead off the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
Supporters lead off the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019

There is no legal requirement to get a permit for a parade and gardaí say there were "no incidents" reported during or following the march.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan defended the gardaí's actions, saying they policed the event "appropriately and with restraint in the circumstances".

The Colour Party leads off the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
The Colour Party leads off the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019

But he said "all right-thinking members of the public are sickened at the sight of a small number of people in paramilitary uniforms".

"These demonstrators do not represent the views of the Irish people who have been united for many decades in rejecting paramilitarism and are rightly revulsed at this display," he said.

A lone protester makes a stand for Lyra McKee at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin.
Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
A lone protester makes a stand for Lyra McKee at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019

The parade included two marching bands and a colour party dressed in military garb with berets and sunglasses.

Among them was Brian Kenna who claimed the PSNI "engineered the situation" which led to a gunman firing indiscriminately in Derry last Thursday night.

There has been global denunciation of the death of Ms McKee - but Kenna claimed it was "just a very tragic accident".

In May 2017, Kenna was found guilty of membership of the IRA after he was caught smuggling a communiqué out of Portlaoise prison.

Kenna was previously a member of the Provisional IRA and part of a six-strong gang jailed for 10 years in 1990 for an attempt to rob a bank in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

He was released following the Good Friday Agreement and was initially a supporter of the peace process.

The emergence of Saoradh cast a shadow over the State's official commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising which took place at the GPO yesterday.

There was no mention of what occurred just 24 hours earlier by President Michael D Higgins who laid a wreath.

In a statement last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the actions of Saoradh were "beneath contempt".

"People North and south are mourning the death of a brave campaigner and journalist, Lyra McKee.

"And on Sunday we marked the heroes of 1916 who put Ireland on the path to democracy. Others like Saoradh want to return Ireland to a violent and troubled past.

"We can never allow this to happen," he said.

Mr Varadkar said the right to assemble and march "was won by the men and women of 1916 who fought for freedom and the democracy we have today".

"This weekend they dishonoured their legacy and memory. It was an insult to the Irish people."

Health Minister Simon Harris said the idea that anybody can take over the streets "in fake military garb" is "absolute nonsense".

Mr Harris described the parade as "repulsive, distasteful and an insult to our democracy and Defence Forces".

"There is only one organisation that has any right to march in military uniform in our county. That is the way a democracy functions. We have one army. They wear a uniform and nobody else has the right to wear it," he said.

Mr Kehoe said the attempts by Saoradh to justify recent violence in Northern Ireland was an "absolute scandal". "When you have these people masked with scarves, sunglasses and military uniform pretending to be some sort of militarily formation I find it absolutely frightening.

"It's frightening for the island of Ireland to see this happening again," he said.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Nial Ring said those who supported Saoradh were "an insult to 1916 rather than a tribute to them".

He said people have "moved in different direction".

"If there were city council regulations to prevent this sort of thing I would back them," he said.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald echoed the calls for a debate on the issue on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland this morning.

"The parade was outrageous and gratuitous," Ms McDonald said.

"The same organisation had cancelled their parade in Derry. If they had any respect they would have cancelled all their parades across the land.

"I think we need to look at that. We need to be conscious of not banning demonstrations and protests, we live in a democracy.

"But we certainly need to have that conversation. We shouldn't of course have to, but these groups are very clear in their message.

"They should be given no wriggle room by any section of Ireland or Irish life.

"They should frankly go away."

Irish Independent

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