More than 20 people were arrested and three gardaí injured after hundreds of protesters took part in an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin this afternoon.
Protesters clashed with gardaí as they marched through the city centre and attempted to make their way to St Stephen’s Green park.
There was a heavy garda presence around the city centre ahead of the protest, which started at around 2pm.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said that 23 people were arrested following the protests. Three Garda personnel were injured during the incident, with one requiring hospital treatment for his injuries.
“We were aware of this protest and what was intended. We put plans in place and obviously intended to constrain that,” Mr Harris said.
“Very regrettably, people arrived intent on violence. They engaged in attacks on members of An Garda Siochana including the throwing of a firework type device. There will be a full investigation into this.
“There were some 20 arrests that we have made already and those arrests are continuing. This operation is not over as we pursue individuals who engage in protest and illegal activity today.
“They had no reasonable grounds for being there in the first place so we will pursue particularly those who formed a very hard core to deal with.
“You don’t carry a firework to a protest with any other purpose than to engage in violent conduct. We will follow through with an investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
A special sitting of Dublin District Court will take place this evening where a number of the arrested persons will be charged.
St Stephen’s Green park was closed in advance of the protest under instructions from An Garda Síochána. The Office of Public Works also announced that the Iveagh Gardens would be closed today.
Hundreds of people who were not wearing face masks took part in the demonstration.
Gardai used batons to push protesters away from the park.
Videos of the protest shows a demonstrator point a firework at gardai before it went off, while other missiles and items were thrown at gardai.
Mr Harris said they were aware that momentum had been gathering on social media in the lead-up to Saturday’s protest.
Mr Harris also said that garda officers were “very lucky” they were not seriously injured when a firework was fired directly at them.
“It was directed at that individual and so we are fortunate they didn’t suffer a serious injury, it was only the individual’s quick thinking that saved him,” Mr Harris said.
“We will follow through with a serious crime investigation into that incident.”
Mr Harris said the demonstrators was a collaboration of groups made up of anti-lockdown protesters, anti-vaccine, anti-facemasks, as well as elements of then far left and far right.
“This was groups working in concert together, as a mob,” he added.
Gardaí from across Dublin were being redirected into the city centre to ensure there are extra resources to manage the protests.
One source said: “Most working available units across the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) have been directed into town.
"The additional resources are necessary due to the large number of people gathered in town, which has led to some violent clashes as well as fireworks being fired at front line officers.”
Some protestors gathered in front of Garda lines taunting them and shouting “you should be ashamed of yourselves” and “why don't you do the Jerusalema dance”.
Some other men shouted abuse at the gardai and warned them to be careful.
“What are you going to do?, they shouted at the gardai.
Gardai remained in position until bottles, fireworks, cans and bottles and other items began to be thrown at them.
At a signal from senior gardai, officers rushed forward with batons raised while shouting, ‘get back, get back’ as the crowd was forced back down Grafton Street.
Dogs from the Garda dog unit accompanied officers as they charged down Dublin’s main shopping street.
The city’s tram operator said that its services would not be operating at the St Stephen’s Green stop because of the protest.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin condemned the protests in Dublin city-centre today and praised An Garda Síochána for their response in restoring order.
“I utterly condemn the protests in Dublin city-centre today, which posed an unacceptable risk to both the public and gardaí,” he said in a statement.
“The large gathering, in the face of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, showed a complete lack of respect to the people who have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic.
“Nor can we tolerate the thuggish behaviour or attacks on gardaí, who have the public’s utmost respect as they continue to protect and serve our society in difficult circumstances.
“There can be no justification for the march or the violence that unfolded, and I pay tribute to members of An Garda Síochána who moved quickly to make arrests and restore order.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was “horrified to see this on our streets”.
"Irish people have spent last year fighting Covid. There is no excuse for violence to Gardaí or anyone. This behaviour on Grafton St by a selfish few undermines sacrifices that millions have made in the last 12 months,” he said on Twitter.
Higher Education minister Simon Harris condemned the anti-lockdown protest.
Mr Harris tweeted: “Pure thuggery on the streets of Dublin today.
“It’s not a ‘protest’. It’s an attack on our national effort.
“The abuse directed at the Gardai is sickening and shameful. Disgraceful.
“Thoughts with the Gardai and their families.”
Frank Thornton, President of the Garda Representative Association, condemned the “acts of aggression directed towards gardaí in Dublin today”.
"Our members were endangered and the whole of society was attacked by people who had no regard for laws created to protect the lives of citizens”.
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond slammed the violent scenes.
“From the outset, this protest was ill-advised, fuelled by conspiracy theories and championed by individuals seeking to manipulate the genuine fears of many vulnerable individuals,” he said.
“It was disgraceful to see this protest descend into violent scenes with brave members of An Garda Siochana subjected to intolerable physical and verbal abuse.
“Some of the eye witness footage circulating is extremely disturbing and every public representative should condemn these awful scenes.
“The footage appears to show a lit firework being thrown at members of the gardai by one protester, which is truly shameful.
“These brave men and women risk their lives every day in the service of the people of our State and what they were subjected to today is utterly appalling.”
A spokesman for An Garda Siochana said: “A number of traffic diversions and other policing measures are currently in place in Dublin this afternoon, Saturday 27th February 2021 in response to a demonstration in the city centre area.
“A policing plan has been implemented and An Garda Siochana will provide a full update when this operation has concluded.”
With additional reporting from PA