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Buses and cars were set on fire on O'Connell Street last night Alamy Stock Photo
Analysis

Dublin riots: How a mob in the capital turned to looting, arson and calls to kill

Dublin city centre was largely shut down last night as rioters attacked gardaí, looted shops and set vehicles on fire.

PEOPLE IN IRELAND and beyond watched in shock as violent scenes unfolded in Dublin city yesterday – first a horrific stabbing, then rioting in the streets.

But what exactly happened and how did the situation escalate?

To understand that, we have to explore both what happened yesterday and also what has been happening online in the months preceding it in terms of anti-immigration rhetoric.

Shortly after 1.30pm on Thursday there were reports of a serious assault near a school in Dublin city at Parnell Square East, a busy transit route that runs through the north of the city centre and onto O’Connell Street.

It soon emerged that three children and two adults, including the attacker, were injured in the incident.

A five-year-old girl remains in a critical condition in hospital. A woman in her 30s, who is the children’s carer, remains in a serious condition in the Mater Hospital.

Security sources currently believe the stabbing incident was a random attack, but gardaí continue to investigate if the attacker had any connection with the injured people or with the school.

The Journal has confirmed with sources that the alleged attacker is an Irish citizen, originally from Algeria, and living in Ireland for 20 years.

The suspect remains in hospital today with gardaí present.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar condemned the riots, this morning saying: “Those involved brought shame on Dublin, brought shame on Ireland and brought shame on their families and themselves.”

Timeline of events

The stabbing attack happened as junior and senior infant children from Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire were being lined up to go to a nearby crèche for an after-school club at around 1.30pm yesterday.

A large number of emergency services personnel – gardaí, paramedics and Dublin Fire Brigade – were soon at the scene, and part of the road was closed off.

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A large crowd of people started to gather at the scene, including concerned parents and grandparents.

The Journal spoke with one woman who had collected her five-year-old granddaughter from the school minutes before the incident happened.

“It’s her classmates. I’m just in shock. I just hope the kids are alright, and the teachers. They’re not letting us know anything. We’re hearing all different stories.

The principal said [the attacker] started slashing the knife … at the kids.

“That’s all I know. I didn’t see it happen.”

A number of passers-by intervened to subdue the attacker and prevent him from injuring anyone else. It later emerged that a Brazilian Deliveroo driver, Caio Benicio, fought off the attacker.

river (2) Caio Benicio Eimer McAuley / The Journal Eimer McAuley / The Journal / The Journal

The 43-year-old father-of-two told The Journal he saw the incident unfolding, got off his motorbike, and used his helmet to stop the attack.

Misinformation and anti-immigrant rhetoric 

When gardaí and other frontline workers were dealing with the stabbing and its aftermath, many people started to discuss the unfolding events online.

As is often the case with a breaking news story, many rumours gained traction before the truth had time to emerge.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack there was a lot of information being shared online – about who the attacker was, the motive and the response of authorities – some of it was true, some of it was not.

A senior Government source quickly stated that the incident was not believed to be terror-related, despite speculation to the contrary. This fact was confirmed at a garda press briefing yesterday afternoon.

Much of the conversation online related to the attacker’s nationality and motive.

The online commentary in the next few hours followed a tried and tested pattern equal parts predictable and toxic. 

Anti-immigration rhetoric has been gaining support in recent months – something that was undeniable at violent protests outside Leinster House back in September.

Prior to that particular protest, organisers of the protest used hashtags like #IrelandIsFull and #EnoughIsEnough. The same hashtags were widely used last night.

The senseless and horrific murder of Ashling Murphy in January 2022 was invoked almost immediately to put forward anti-immigrant sentiment, including by high-profile figures such as MMA fighter Conor McGregor.

Ashling’s killer, Jozef Puska, is originally from Slovakia.

That particular attack was also deemed to be random, despite much speculation that Puska had known Ashling and targeted her.

Irish people and immigrants alike condemned her murder as a heinous crime. Her killing led to a wider conversation about women’s safety in Ireland.

Since 1996, 264 women have died violently in the Republic of Ireland. Of the women that were killed, 63% were killed in their own homes, 55% of legally resolved cases were killed by a partner or ex-partner, and almost nine in 10 women knew their killer.

‘Traitors’

There are a number of high-profile accounts online that routinely share misinformation about immigration and, at times, very openly discuss their hatred of foreigners – seemingly blaming them for anything that goes wrong in Irish society.

Gardaí, politicians and the media are regularly labelled ‘traitors’.

The fact that the suspect in yesterday’s stabbing attack originally came from Algeria, despite being an Irish citizen for many years, was apparently proof that immigrants need to be deported or – according to some posts – attacked and killed.

The fact that the man who intervened and stopped the attack was a foreigner, from Brazil, seemed to be less important. Although, some people posted online about how Brazilians are ‘good’ immigrants who ‘give back’ to Irish society.

Several members of the medical teams treating those injured in yesterday’s attack are also immigrants.

‘Blood on the streets’

A number of social media posts incorrectly referred to the attacker as an “illegal immigrant”. Under one Facebook post about the stabbing, commenters said it was “reported” that the suspect was Romanian.

When one person said it wasn’t clear from the video alone if the suspect was Irish, they were told:

It’s idiots like you who have the blood of Irish children on the streets.

Certain accounts were encouraging people to go to the city centre and attack gardaí, immigrants and politicians.

One voice note that was widely shared on messaging apps Telegram and WhatsApp encouraged people to kill any foreigners they met.

While some people who engaged in yesterday’s riots were opportunists, it’s clear others who came into the city centre were intent on violence. 

Screenshot 2023-11-24 143337

One of the messages widely shared online yesterday, saying blood needed to be spilled. 

Leo Varadkar’s address and a photo of his house were also widely shared online. As highlighted by certain social media posts, some people were planning to march from the city centre to his home.

A spokesperson for the National Party, a minor far-right political party which has no elected representative, wrote on Facebook that Dublin “has just got it’s latest does of Multiculturalism [sic]” after the stabbing.

“Every single plantation centre in Ireland needs to be shut immediately and every single occupant deported,” they added.

Racist tropes 

Conspiracy-minded groups often use the phrase ‘the Great Plantation’ to refer to a plan to replace Irish people with foreign people.

A ‘plantation centre’ may refer to Direct Provision centres which house asylum seekers, even though the suspect was not a resident of one.

Some messages being shared last night encouraged people to target Direct Provision centres and other buildings housing international protection applicants.

One post said: “Enough is enough. Are you happy to sit and watch Irish children stabbed, or will you man up, and fight back?”

The Holiday Inn Express on Cathal Brugha Street was set ablaze by vandals because they believed immigrants were inside. Luckily, no one at the hotel was injured.

Screenshot 2023-11-24 161250

Justin Barret – who still considers himself the rightful leader of the National Party, despite being removed from the role following a dispute involving €400,000 worth of gold – shared messages about the protests to his Telegram that read: “1000 people are already at the spire. All hands on deck. Defend our kids.”

He later added: “I want the storm to break loose!”

Other anti-immigration groups echoed similar sentiments.

Derek Blighe, the leader of the anti-immigrant Ireland First political party said on Telegram: “Your children are in mortal danger, and the Irish government are responsible.

These people should not be in our country. You need to wake up, you need to get on your feet, you need to mobilise.

Blighe later shared a headline from the conservative media site Gript which said it had confirmed that the stabbing suspect was understood to be an “Algerian national”. Below the screenshot, Blighe wrote: “A fakeugee” (i.e. a ‘fake refugee’).

Blighe later shared the false rumour that the girl who was attacked had died shortly afterwards in a YouTube livestream of an anti-immigrant protest in Fermoy.

That same rumour was shared widely in the aftermath of the stabbing, including by Philip Dwyer, an anti-immigrant activist who has been sharing antisemitic content since the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“This part of Dublin is practically overrun with non-Irish people, foreigners,” Dwyer said in a livestream on X, formerly Twitter, after he travelled to Dublin to join protestors who had gathered at the Spire.

Dwyer later livestreamed the riots and the burning of vehicles while delivering long monologues on migration and how “lunatics are being let in without any vetting”.

A livestream, viewed by more than 130,000 people, featured Dwyer erroneously saying multiple times that it was “confirmed” that one of the children had been killed.

The media was also quickly blamed – both for not covering the story by commentators online, and for covering it by people at the scene.

One video from the scene showed a journalist being harassed, accused of calling some of the rioters far-right.

This footage was shared by Irish antisemitic commentator Keith Woods, who wrote: “Liberal Irish journalist who smears opponents of mass-immigration as “far fight” gets sent on his bike by local after showing up to the site of a stabbing spree today.”

That post would later be retweeted by McGregor, who wrote:

In a war you are nothing. We are not backing down, we are only warming up.

“There will be no backing down until real change is implemented for the safety of our nation.

“We are not losing any more of our women and children to sick and twisted people who should not even be in Ireland in the first place”.

At the time of publication, both posts had been viewed more than 13 million times each, so 27 million times in total.

In a post shared this evening, McGregor said he did not “condone” last night’s riots but understood people’s “frustrations”. 

Defence Forces

There were also several incorrect reports yesterday that the Defence Forces had deployed vehicles on the streets of Dublin, but this was confirmed to be false.

This information was also reported by a number of media outlets, including BBC News, who later corrected the error.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the Defence Forces said that images being shared online were not taken yesterday and had no connection to the riots.

“We ask everyone to be sensitive to the spreading disinformation, and to take care.”

The Taoiseach today said the Government will “modernise our laws against incitement to hatred and hatred in general”, on foot of the riots.

“That is more required than was ever the case before,” Varadkar added.

In recent months there has been criticism of what some people view as a relative ‘hands-off’ approach by gardaí to far-right protests.

A senior garda source today told The Journal that yesterday’s events will lead to a major change in approach.

“There will be a change coming. There has been a lot of advocating for a more robust approach for a long time now at all ranks. This is likely to change the garda approach and the response will be an awful lot more robust,” the source said.

How tensions escalated 

As misinformation spread online, tensions at the scene of the attack of the stabbing quickly escalated.

A group of people approached the garda cordon and some started to shout insults and throw items such as bottles. 

“You should be f*cking ashamed of yourselves,” one man shouted.

This group slowly began to grow in numbers to between 30 and 40 people.

The crowd started to block traffic – first westbound on Parnell Street, then the Luas line, then northbound O’Connell Street – by standing in front of buses, trams and cars from around 4.30pm.

Two tricolours were also draped over the windscreen of a stopped Dublin Bus.

The crowd swelled in numbers soon afterwards, growing much larger in and around O’Connell Street. Some people started to throw fireworks and other objects at gardaí.

1 Sasko Lazarov Sasko Lazarov

After 6pm, rioters had set a garda car on fire. The situation then spiralled further – a number of cars, buses and a Luas tram were set alight, resulting in public transport being suspended in the city.

This included a Dublin Bus on O’Connell Street bridge, which became the focal point of the riot for a time.

A number of events due to take place in the city were cancelled or finished early due to the riots.

Some employees were unable to leave their places of work due to safety concerns, remaining inside offices and shops for a number of hours.

The Rotunda advised patients to not attend the maternity hospital “unless absolutely necessary” yesterday, but services there have since returned to normal. 

During the unrest, some rioters started to break into shops such as Foot Locker and the Asics shoe shop on O’Connell Street. Many members of the crowd followed them in and left the shops carrying armfuls of clothing, some throwing them in the air.

The atmosphere in the crowd was frantic at times. There were frequent bangs as fireworks were being set off, a reporter from The Journal at the scene witnessed.

After one particularly loud bang, the crowd panicked, and many onlookers started to flee away from the scene.

The looting then spread with rioters gaining access to Arnotts department store on Abbey Street, where a number of staff were left trapped, while others moved down Henry Street.

By 8pm riot police were moving down O’Connell Street, at times charging. 

After this area was cleared, rioting continued in the southside of the city with the windows of some businesses damaged, and riot police were also deployed there.

When riot police are deployed, they operate in a so-called skirmish line – meaning they take up position at a certain junction. They will stand there, while at times being hit with rocks and other implements, before the call is given to move forward to the next junction.

The need for the use of force is determined in a “proportional and necessary” manner, one source said.

When asked to move from one junction to another, the group would advance – walking or running with their shields up – once the sergeant in question has given the order.

Garda backup

As gardaí in the city centre struggled to deal with the scale of violence and unrest, urgent messages were sent to members of An Garda Síochána in Dublin and other counties calling for backup.

Gardaí from across the country answered the call. Members in Leinster were in the city by around 8pm, while members from Waterford arrived shortly after 10pm.

The gardaí stayed in various locations, on both sides of the River Liffey, until around 3am when “stand down” orders were given.

Several gardaí in Dublin who had started work at 7am on Thursday only finished at 3am today.

download (3) Gardaí responding to the violence last night Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A senior source told The Journal: “This is not the sign of a demoralised police force. They got in their cars in various places across the country, off duty, and came in and worked in Dublin city centre.”

Threat to life

During the riots, garda units – such as the Emergency Response Unit along with other undercover units and local detective units – rescued people who were trapped inside buildings in Dublin.

In a number of incidents there was a direct threat to life of gardaí who were cornered by the rioters. They were rescued by their colleagues, The Journal understands.

In one incident two gardaí in a patrol car were cornered and their vehicle was attacked as they were in it. Their vehicle was set alight. They were able to get away with the help of their colleagues.

Dozens of gardaí were injured and one officer remains in hospital with a serious foot injury.

A senior garda source told us: “We’ve stood up our welfare system. There were a lot of gardaí in very frightening situations.

While the physical injuries may be evident, the mental health impact may take some time to manifest – we are working to deal with that in a proactive manner.

In total, 11 garda vehicles were damaged – three cars were burned out and eight vehicles have substantial damage but are salvageable.

Dozens of extra gardaí will be working overtime in Dublin city this weekend. The public order unit, which comprises 250 officers and can be increased further, are on duty.

A garda source said that public order capacity was “substantially” stood up last night, adding that this “will continue for the entire weekend”.

“We are bringing in gardaí from across the country who are public-order qualified,” they added.

Calls for Minister and Commissioner to resign

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris today defended the policing of the early stages of the riot last night.

He said that gardaí could not have anticipated the events that unfolded in the city centre in the wake of the stabbing incident.

Harris told reporters this morning: “An Garda Síochána responded to this in an extraordinary fashion, members from across the country, not just here in the DMR (Dublin Metropolitan Region), responded and returned to duty, public order units from all over Ireland responded here to Dublin.

“More and more resources were arriving throughout the evening. But we could not have anticipated that in response to a terrible crime, the stabbing of schoolchildren and their teacher, that this would be the response.”

A spokesperson for the Garda Representative Association (GRA), said the organisation has “long called for greater resources, better training and to be more appropriately equipped for such events – both in terms of safety equipment and with technology such as body worn recording devices”.

“These are issues that we will continue to raise with garda management as well as the ongoing recruitment crisis, but at this time we would like to wish our members injured in yesterday’s rioting a speedy recovery and assure them of our full solidarity and support.

“We need to ensure that all our members are properly protected for their own safety and that of the public.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is among those calling on Harris and Justice Minister Helen McEntee to resign.

However, the Taoiseach has expressed confidence in both McEntee and Harris.

Speaking to reporters this evening, McEntee said she had no intention of resigning.

“If Sinn Féin wish to debate law and order, if Sinn Féin wish to debate how we can support the gardaí, I have no problem in standing over Fine Gael’s record of law and order, Fine Gael’s record of supporting members of An Garda Síochána,” the minister said.

Thirty-four people were arrested following the riots with the majority appearing in court today.

Varadkar earlier said that McEntee will coordinate with Harris “to ensure we never witness such terrible scenes as the 23rd of November 2023 ever again”.

Contains reporting from PA

Author
Órla Ryan, Niall O'Connor, Shane Raymond and Nicky Ryan