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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Rolling News
Leinster House

Commissioner told 'credibility of gardaí at stake' as TD warns of potential 'Jo Cox moment'

TDs and senators have condemned yesterday’s protests, which saw politicians trapped in Leinster House.

POLITICIANS FROM ACROSS the political divide have condemned the scenes outside Leinster House yesterday that saw protesters block exits and vitriolic abuse shouted at a number of politicians, who were surrounded and abused as they walked in the streets around the Oireachtas. 

Around 200 people – protesting over a range of issues, including immigration – gathered outside various entrances to Leinster House yesterday as the Dáil returned after the summer recess. 

There were a number of violent incidents throughout the day, and a total of thirteen people were detained by gardaí. 

It was confirmed late last night that the thirteen – 11 men and 2 women – had been charged, and that two had already appeared before the courts. 

image (2) PA PA

The presence of a mock gallows at the protest came in for particular criticism yesterday afternoon. The prop – which included a figure with a hangman’s noose around its neck – was adorned with photos of politicians from various parties, including the Taoiseach and politicians from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and left-wing parties. 

“Security in Leinster House is lighter than most parliaments. That’s a good thing, because we want to be accessible to the public, but we need to make sure that our elected representatives are safe in the work they do,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, speaking in New York. 

Later on, TDs leaving the Oireachtas had to be escorted out in their cars by gardaí after earlier being told to remain in the complex for safety reasons. 

That afternoon, disturbing footage emerged online of Cork Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire being prevented from entering the complex on Kildare Street. He was surrounded by an angry group of protesters as a man shouted “traitor, traitor” with an amplifier. 

Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae was also surrounded and abused as he walked near the Dáil. He said later that his intern had also had her phone stolen during the incident. 

Speaking this morning he said there had been “no coherent message” from the protesters, who he described as “like a gang”. 

Gardaí had had to put up with horrendous abuse and had had missiles thrown at them in the course of the day, the TD added. 

Speaking to the media in New York, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan the people of Kerry voted for Healy-Rae and he has a right to be able to walk in and out of work safely.

“It’s an insult to our citizens, they voted for Michael… God Almighty, he’s got the right to walk in and out safely, the people that vote for him expect that he’s got the right to be able to walk in and out of work safely, as well as all the staff.

“So I think it’s absolutely shocking,” he said.

One Leinster House staff member told The Journal that they witnessed what appeared to be a bottle of urine thrown across the wall into the Leinster House car park by a protester yesterday.

Fine Gael senator Barry Ward has written to the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris warning that “the credibility of An Garda Síochána is at stake if strong action is not taken to ensure this behaviour is not repeated and our democratic institutions are protected”.

In that letter, Ward said “the time has come for An Garda Síochána to step up and protect our democracy”. 

It’s been confirmed a review of security at Leinster House will get under way today. 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee tweeted this morning to say she has spoken to the Garda Commissioner and the Superintendent in Pearse Street “about the disgraceful scenes outside Leinster House yesterday”.

McEntee also confirmed that gardaí will be meeting with the Oireachtas today “to discuss the policing and security approach around Leinster House”.

Marc Ó Cathasaigh, the Green TD for Waterford, warned in a tweet of a possible “Jo Cox moment” - referring to the UK Labour MP who was murdered in 2016

“Do we imagine we’re far from a Jo Cox moment? We’ve pretended to ourselves that we’re immune to this kind of dangerous polarisation in this country. We are not.”

Ryan said we have to careful that that does not become a reality, while also ensuring that whatever the response is, that we don’t lose the point of contact between Irish people and politicians.

“It’s a real strength of our country that most people would know a TD, and would never feel shy about approaching a TD,” he said. 

He repeated what he said yesterday, stating he was concerned about the level of “mad conspiracy theories” that people were following online, “where people get the same message, they never hear a different view”.

“I think that’s really a part of the problem,” he said.

Liam Herrick, the head of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, described the scenes yesterday as “a complete disgrace”. 

Senator and Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer also condemned the nature of the gathering while speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. He then said he would be recommending the establishment of a “sterile area” around the Oireachtas. 

The proposed zone would cover the area around Merrion Square, Mount Street, Kildare Street and Molesworth Street.

“There should be a sterile area where members of the Oireachtas and staff can move freely in and out,” he said, adding that there should still be space for people to protest as it is “their legitimate right to do so.” 

In a statement last night An Garda Síochána said a team had been appointed to investigate yesterday’s violence. 

“Regular uniform Gardaí, were supported by Plain Clothes Units and the Public Order Unit in ‘soft cap’ mode,” the statement read. 

“In total 13 arrests were made over the course of today connected with incidents in the vicinity of Government Buildings.

“A Senior Investigating Officer has been appointed, overseeing an investigation team based at Pearse Street, to coordinate and investigate all of the circumstances regarding these incidents and any other matters which may be identified as necessary for investigation which occurred around Government Buildings.”

- With reporting by Jane Matthews and David Mac Redmond