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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Taoiseach Simon Harris. Alamy Stock Photo
Newtownmountkennedy

Taoiseach and Justice Minister condemn attacks on gardaí at public order incident in Wicklow

Simon Harris said any attacks on gardaí “should be condemned by all”.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Apr

TAOISEACH SIMON HARRIS has condemned attacks on gardaí during a protest at a site that had been earmarked for asylum seekers in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow last night.

Six people were arrested for public disorder offences yesterday evening, after three garda patrol cars were damaged and a fire was started at one point. Gardaí said they “came under attack” by people gathered at the site.

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.

In a statement shared on social media this morning, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said: “Any attack on a member of an Garda Síochána is an attack on our democracy and our state.

“Gardaí have my full support in their work and while peaceful protest is a right we all value, we will not tolerate vandalism and attacks on Gardaí,” she wrote.

Speaking on WLR FM this morning, McEntee said Gardaí “were fired upon” while policing the protest last night. 

“Gardaí were fired upon in that there were rocks thrown at them. There were people there who physically attacked members of An Garda Síochána. There were cars and there were Gardaí equipment that were there that were damaged. You had a small fire that people attempted to set on the scene where Gardaí were there,” she said.

“It’s not acceptable. It’s not to be tolerated. This is not a peaceful protest. This is people who are breaking the law and so I fully support the response that the Gardaí took last night.”

McEntee said that every person has a right to peaceful protest and to make their views known. 

However, nobody has a right – ever – to prevent someone from entering their property, to blockade an entrance to a property, to stop workers from going to work and nobody has a right to attack gardaí.

“That’s exactly what happened last night, as gardaí did their job in making sure that we could do what we can to accommodate those who are seeking protection.”

Local reaction

Local Independent councillor John Snell told The Journal that gardaí deployed what he believed was a “heavy-handed” approach at the protest last night.

Snell, who said he had attended demonstrations since they began in recent weeks, added that scenes yesterday meant it was a “sad night” for the area.

He further argued that gardaí were “not attacked”. Instead, he claimed this only took place after the Public Order unit engaged with protesters and used pepper spray.

He added: “There is no doubt that after people were injured and the Public Order unit proceeded to barge over people that they did come under attack from youths that were in the field beside us.”

Snell’s view on the cause of the violence was echoed throughout the local community this morning, with the majority of locals blaming gardaí for the scenes.

In Bray today, four people were brought before the district court charged with Public Order offences resulting from last night’s incident.

Inspector Garda Niall Kennedy alleged that gardaí at the scene were met with a “prolonged and extremely dangerous” level of violence yesterday.

When asked about comments by the justice minister, who told radio station WLR this morning that local people had been “whipped up” by anti-migrant agitators who had come from other parts of the country, including Dublin, Snell said that a large majority of protesters were still people from the village and its surrounding area.

He added that there were “people from outside of Newtownmountkennedy” at Tubber House this week but argued that the number was “very small” out of the total number.

There were roughly ten protesters outside the site earlier this evening.

Gardaí remained at the site to allow a contractor carry out work on the premises.

‘Disturbing’ scenes

Speaking to The Journal in Blanchardstown this morning, Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the scenes were “disturbing”.

“We saw extremely serious scenes of violence in Newtownmountkennedy last night. We had workmen trying to get on with their job, trying to provide accommodation at the site there,” he said

“We really appreciate the support from An Garda Síochána in terms of their intervention, in terms of keeping people who were just trying to do their job safe.”

The Journal / YouTube

O’Gorman said the Government will continue close cooperation with An Garda Síochána when opening accommodation around the country, adding that the Gardaí have been important in ensuring that international protection applicants living in accommodation are able to access their homes in a safe way. 

He said they recognise that many of the people present last night were not from the immediate area and “had come in with the intention of engaging in disruption, and I think it’s obvious, engaging in violence”. 

“We’ll work to police these situations to the best of our ability. I know there has been a significant number of arrests and I’m hoping that this will show that the State will not tolerate these sort of activities in any situation.”

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson Pa Daly condemned the attack “in the strongest terms”. 

“Individuals trespassed, set fires and threw various items at Gardaí,” he said in a statement. 

“Garda have powers available where demonstrators are engaging in threatening behaviour, blocking roads and entrances to workplaces and setting fire.

“We must be unequivocal in both our support for Gardaí, and condemnation of criminality.

Violence and damage to property are totally unacceptable, as death or serious injury will surely follow.

In a statement this morning, People Before Profit TDs said what happened in Newtownmountkennedy is “another shocking development driven by far right agitators and anti-refugee rhetoric”. 

Richard Boyd Barrett said the party will “redouble our efforts to mobilise broad campaigns against the far right”.

“We will also continue to oppose the neoliberal housing, health and care policies of this and successive governments that do so much damage to our society and create the fear and despair that feeds the far right,” he said.

“We call on all people who are appalled by what is happening to mobilise against the hate and division of the far right and to demand housing, health and care services for all”.

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

Gardaí believe the building, known as Trudder House, 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. 

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the Department of Integration confirmed it intends to use the vacant property at Trudder House “to help alleviate the serious accommodation shortage currently faced by International Protection applicants”. 

“The Department strongly condemns any alleged attempts to drive division and hostility towards those who come to Ireland seeking asylum. Acts such as these achieve nothing but endanger people’s lives and homes,” the spokesperson said.

“A Community Engagement Team (CET) has been established to engage directly with elected representatives, relevant Local Authorities, Local Development Companies, and other entities and individuals. The CET has engaged with public representatives in Wicklow.”

Gardaí maintained a presence at the site overnight and remain there this morning. 

In a statement issued at 11.45pm last night, a garda spokesperson said the incident 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.”

Footage shared on social media yesterday showed a couple of dozen people refusing to move when asked to by gardaí.

It is believed some protesters 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.

With reporting by Eoghan Dalton in Newtownmountkennedy.

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