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Dublin: 12 °C Monday 30 May, 2016

‘We need to assess the threat to the 1916 commemorations’

There needs to be a carefully choreographed evacuation plan with an event of this size, writes Tom Clonan.

Tom Clonan

AS IRELAND PREPARES to commemorate the 1916 Rising centenary, 360,000 people are expected to converge Dublin’s city centre.

An Easter Parade will take place on Easter Sunday, proceeding from Dublin Castle to Parnell Square. On Easter Monday, the city centre will host dozens of events, installations and public lectures as part of the ‘Reflecting the Rising’ commemorations.

The sheer numbers of people converging in the city centre may well be unprecedented.  The NTA have prepared a special public transport plan to get people in and out of the city safely.

The gardaí have given the following simple advice to people attending events in Dublin, ‘In a nutshell: If you live outside the M50, try to leave your car outside the M50. If you live inside the M50 try to leave your car outside the Grand Canal on the Southside or outside the North Circular Road on the Northside’.

Unprecedented numbers in the city centre 

Under normal circumstances, the convergence of such unprecedented numbers in the city centre raises a number of public safety and public order issues.

The Garda website reminds people that it is an offence to consume alcohol in public places and advises parents and guardians to ‘come early, large crowds are expected’.

Furthermore, the gardaí advise that parents should write their telephone numbers on their children’s arms, in case of ‘accidental separation’. They advise ‘write it on their clothing tags, their arm or a piece of paper and tell them where it is!’

Depending on the weather and other factors, the Easter 2016 commemorations may see the largest number of citizens gathered in a public space since Pope John Paul II visit to Ireland in 1979. Unlike the open spaces of the Phoenix Park however – where one million people gathered during the Pope’s visit – up to half a million people may gather in the confines of Dublin’s city centre.

1916 Easter Rising commemoration Source: Niall Carson

Aside from the public order and public safety dimension to such a large gathering, there is a heightened security threat attaching to the weekend of Easter 2016.

The recent ‘New IRA’ attack on a prison officer in Belfast has prompted the Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI, Stephen Martin, to state that dissident republicans are intent on marking the centenary of the Rising by ‘killing police officers, prison officers or soldiers’.

The ‘New IRA’ attack 

In the context of the New IRA’s attack, M15, the PSNI and intelligence sources within the Republic are cognisant of the risk from dissident republican groups of protest, hoax attack or actual violence over the weekend of the Easter 2016 commemorations.

In the case of protest or civil disobedience, the events at the tiny ‘Love Ulster’ parade of 2006 demonstrate how quickly a small demonstration can descend into violence, rioting, burning and looting. If such an incident were to take place this Easter Weekend, the danger to the public posed by such violence and the potential for panic and crushing incidents would require a carefully choreographed evacuation plan on the part of an Garda Siochana public order units and event stewards.

I asked the gardaí if such an evacuation plan was in place and if there had been any specific training in this area – particularly with other stakeholders and first line responders such as the HSE and Fire Service. At time of writing, I have received no response.

In the case of false alarms or hoax bomb alerts on the part of dissident republicans or others there would be a similar requirement for an effective and safe evacuation plan for the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to throng the city streets. On the eve of the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011, dissident republicans staged an elaborate hoax bomb alert in London – involving a phone call from the Republic and the use of a recognised code word – for the first time in over a decade.

1916 commemorations 

Given recent events and the heightened political and symbolic significance of the Easter 2016 commemorations, such an incident is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Security in Dublin city centre around the Queen’s visit and that of President Barack Obama in 2011 cost the taxpayer a total of almost 36 million.

In those security operations, the public were kept away from the visiting VIPs and an effective cordon sanitaire was created between ordinary citizens and the visiting dignitaries. There were no spontaneous walkabouts and all members of the public that interacted with the visitors were hand picked and security vetted.

IRELAND 1916 REBELLION Source: AP/Press Association Images

The security environment for the Easter 2016 celebrations is very different and potentially, much more fluid and volatile. There are hundreds of venues to monitor and hundreds of thousands of citizens moving in an unpredictable flux.

In 2011, the gardaí searched and sealed the sewers in the city centre – sealing over 5,000 manholes – to prevent the placement of IEDs at sensitive locations. Snipers were located on rooftops and significant army resources were mobilised – 2,000 troops – to support the garda uniformed, public order and specialist units on standby.

Republican activity 

Dissident republicans have form with regard to car bomb and attempted car bomb attacks in Dublin.

In April 1998, the gardaí intercepted a massive car bomb in Dun Laoghaire. As recently as May 2014, gardaí seized a dissident republican IED at the car park of Finnstown House.

That device was viable and contained a time power unit, detonating cord and a large bulk charge. An IED of this nature, either vehicle borne or concealed in a building in the city centre cannot be discounted as a possible threat over the Easter weekend.

Despite the garda’s heightened presence in the city in recent weeks, including a ‘ring of steel’ comprising armed specialist units, criminals and dissident republicans have been able to carry out planned executions in Dublin involving Kalashnikov AKM assault rifles.

At best, one hopes that the intelligence gaps which accompanied such attacks have been addressed with regard to the current, heightened dissident republican threat.

At the very least, the general public should be educated to exercise vigilance this Easter weekend and to know exactly what to do in the event of an incident, whether it be a false alarm, hoax attack or actual terrorist incident.

The relevant authorities have a significant duty of care towards those attending the commemorative events and one hopes that there have been significant boots on the ground exercises and training to deal with a crowd control incident or casualty incident in Dublin’s congested inner-city.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.    

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