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Still from a video of a fire at the protest
Wicklow

Newtownmountkennedy: Five charged as Garda Commissioner condemns 'unacceptable' scenes

Drew Harris said gardaí were attacked with stones and patrol vehicles had windows smashed, with one being smashed with an axe.

FIVE PEOPLE HAVE been charged following a public order incident at a site earmarked for asylum seekers in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow last night. 

Six people were arrested for public disorder offences at the site, where Gardaí say they “came under attack” by people who had gathered there. Three garda patrol cars were damaged and a fire was started at one point. 

In a statement this morning, Gardaí said they maintained a presence at the site overnight and remain on site this morning. No further significant incidents were reported overnight.

Three men and one woman have been charged for offences contrary to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.

The four will appear before the District Court later today.

One man has been charged with alleged offences contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1997. He has been released to appear before court at a later date.

One male juvenile has been released without charge. A referral will be prepared for the Youth Diversion Project in accordance with the Children Act 2001.

Gardaí confirmed that Commissioner Drew Harris visited the location at Newtownmountkennedy this morning.

Speaking after the visit, Harris said there were “very unacceptable scenes seen here in terms of a protest, which then turned to violence”. 

“We’ve seen an attempt to burn a small outhouse type premises, but also then disgracefully attacks on members of An Garda Síochána who were attacked with stones and indeed vehicles have been damaged, and one vehicle, the vehicle behind me, was damaged with an axe,” he said. 

“As we can see with a normal patrol vehicle, both front window and the rear window have been smashed with an axe, not a hatchet, a full size axe. And also then we’ve had another vehicle lights broken and the Public Order vehicle with its tyres slashed.”

Harris said there were also attempts to injure Gardaí.

“Rubble and stones were thrown from fields and members had to deploy in protective public order equipment and shields to make sure that they could protect themselves from the assaults upon them.”

Protests had been ongoing near the site in Newtownmountkennedy in recent weeks. 

In a statement at 11.45pm last night, a garda spokesperson said: “This incident has developed as a result of workers, contracted to carry out lawful employment on the site, entering the site.

“A number of trespassers were also identified on and removed from the site.”

The statement said that gardaí were subject to both physical and verbal abuse at the site throughout the day, which escalated to rocks and missiles being thrown yesterday evening.

Gardaí “used force to defend themselves” in response.

“Assistance was provided by members of An Garda Síochána Public Order Unit and approximately 50 members of An Garda Síochána remain at the scene this evening,” it said.

“The use of force included the use of Incapacitant spray and deployment of Public Order Gardaí in Public Order helmets and shields.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris has “condemned the attacks on An Garda Síochána last night”. 

Harris said gardaí are “charged with upholding the laws of the land and they should be supported in doing so”.

“This is a country of laws. Attacks on gardaí should be condemned by all,” he said.

Earlier, footage on social media showed a couple of dozen people refusing to move when asked to by gardaí.

It is believed some protestors arrived by taxi. Some had hoods up or had their faces covered.

At around 8.30pm an urgent assistance call was issued by gardaí, requesting that all units nearby come to provide help.

Windows of squad cars were broken and tyres were slashed. A fire was started at the scene at one point.

A garda spokesperson said they are not aware of any injuries over the course of the public order incident.

“Persons gathered at the entrance of the site have been moved away from the entrance but remain gathered in the area.

“An Garda Síochána respects the right for citizens to exercise their constitutional rights; this right does not extend to breaches of Criminal Law, the interference with the rights of other citizens to carry out their daily activities, or to attack members of An Garda Síochána,” they continued.

“Any Garda activity in relation to evolving events involves a graduated policing response taking into account relevant legislation and public safety, with enforcement as a last resort.”

They added that An Garda Síochána is aware of misinformation and disinformation being spread in relation to the events.

A fire broke out at the site at Newtownmountkennedy in the early hours of 13 April

Gardaí believe the building, known as River Lodge, was targeted in an arson attack.  

The Department of Integration had been assessing the site after it accepted a HSE offer to use the vacant building and its grounds to accommodate asylum seekers, as the Government is under considerable pressure to accommodate those sleeping in tents in Dublin city. 

The Irish Examiner reported on 13 April that works being carried out as part of the assessment process had stalled at the site. It’s unclear if there are still plans for asylum seekers to be accommodated there. 

The Department of Integration has been contacted for comment. 

With reporting by Niall O’Connor, Hayley Halpin and Jane Moore

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