Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 February 2006

5:00 pm

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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Last Saturday, 300 men, women and children, all of them Northern Ireland Protestant, Unionist, people, came to Dublin with five bands to hold a peaceful procession, which was to be followed by a short rally, to express their deeply held convictions about past and present issues in Northern Ireland. This House will note that they held their procession and rally in the immediate environs of Leinster House without creating any difficulty or disorder and peacefully returned to Northern Ireland. In doing so, they exercised what is guaranteed to every citizen of this, the Irish Republic, as a matter of constitutional right under Article 40 of our Constitution, namely, the rights of citizens, subject to public order and morality, to "freely express their convictions and opinions" and to "assemble peaceably and without arms" for that purpose. The Constitution also makes express provision for the limitation of that right in the interests of preserving the public peace, the prevention of danger and nuisance to the public and to safeguard the integrity of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Under our laws, the Garda Síochána is entrusted with the duty of upholding those rights and upholding public order and the law in the manner in which they are exercised. As the House knows, the people who had come from Northern Ireland were prevented by a mob of cowardly thugs, who exhibited cowardice, criminality, viciousness and hatred in equal measure, from walking the route they had chosen.

As the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am addressing the House in an act of political accountability on behalf of the Garda for which I have ministerial responsibility. I am laying before the House the information I have received from the Garda authorities about the preparations which were made by Garda management in advance of last Saturday. I will outline the experience of the Garda in dealing with the events which occurred in O'Connell Street and its environs on the occasion of the Families Acting for Innocent Relatives march. The FAIR organisation represents a group of people from the loyalist community in Northern Ireland, including many families which were bereaved by nationalist violence during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

I have arranged for Members to be given a written summary, prepared by my officials, of the manner in which the force carefully prepared for the demonstration. The summary, based exclusively on the extensive oral and written reports received by the Department from the Garda Commissioner over the past 48 hours, sets out how the Garda authorities managed the situation when, entirely contrary to their expectations and their formal risk assessment, significant scenes of thuggery and public disorder suddenly occurred, forcing the procession to be significantly rerouted and severely curtailed.

It should not be forgotten that despite the extraordinary disturbances in O'Connell Street last Saturday, the Garda authorities managed to facilitate the holding of a loyalist demonstration outside Leinster House. The courage and professionalism of the Garda ensured that no harm was caused to the participants. It is a challenging task to police a democratic society and, in particular, to maintain public order in a liberal democracy. It is much more difficult to do so than to exercise the same responsibility in a country where the right to freedom of expression, free assembly and public protest is not enshrined in the constitution. In Ireland, as republicans, we extend such liberties and freedoms to allow people of every shade of opinion to express their views in public marches and demonstrations, subject only to the requirements of public order and the common good.

The Garda which is charged with security matters checked with its contacts and sources in the various strands of the Sinn Féin movement to ascertain their intentions in respect of the protest on Saturday. After it assessed the intelligence information that was available to it, it concluded that any counter-demonstration to the loyalist march would come from the Republican Sinn Féin element in the political spectrum. The information gleaned by the Garda was that Provisional Sinn Féin did not intend to mount any protest on the day and that Republican Sinn Féin intended to mount a peaceful sit-down protest involving a relatively small number of its members who would be bearing placards.

I draw to the attention of the House that Republican Sinn Féin declined to engage in a meaningful manner with the Garda which was preparing to police the demonstration. It did not give any advance information about its intentions in carrying out a counter-protest. Its failure to co-operate was despicable and should be condemned by all shades of opinion represented in this House.

In light of the information available to the Garda authorities about the scale of the loyalist protest, they decided to deploy 281 members of the force to police the parade in a low-key and relatively unobtrusive fashion. They took the precaution of keeping a 67-member detachment of the public order unit discreetly in reserve in a nearby street in case events took an unexpected turn, which was the case on the day. While lessons will be learned from what subsequently took place, I want to make clear that blame for the events of last Saturday lies squarely with those who indulged in wanton violence and destruction on the streets of our capital city and those who encouraged such behaviour, directly or indirectly. I welcome Deputy Kenny's suggestion that the House should adopt a motion in this regard.

It is to my great regret and disappointment that those who travelled from the North were not extended their rights. A small and wholly unrepresentative group of cowardly thugs did their utmost to debase this State because they could not stomach another viewpoint or bring themselves to acknowledge the existence of an alternative tradition on this island. As the Taoiseach has said, they engaged in an orgy of violence that was directed against the Garda, in direct contravention of the will of the people of this island, North and South, as endorsed overwhelmingly in the referenda on the Good Friday Agreement. Those responsible should hang their heads in shame. I hope they will be brought to book for what they have done.

Those who pervertedly and falsely describe themselves as republicans have once again acted contrary to the aspiration of Irish unity. We must wonder whether such people will ever comprehend the stupidity and futility of action of this nature. They unleashed hate-filled and provocative sectarian abuse on the Garda. They insulted members of the force such as the late detective garda Jerry McCabe, who died at the hands of cowardly and sectarian terrorists as he was helping to uphold our democracy. They waved the tricoloured national flag which represents peace between orange and green. What kind of Ireland do these people desire? I particularly want to record my shock and anger that the thugs attacked and injured members of the Garda who were doing their duty with courage and forbearance. On behalf of the Government, I have asked the Garda Commissioner to convey to the injured gardaí and their families my wishes for a speedy recovery and my gratitude for their courage.

I was in regular touch with the Commissioner and his senior officers throughout the weekend, after the events under discussion transpired. I received a preliminary report on the matter yesterday, on which I briefed my Government colleagues this morning.

I would like to make a few points before I go into further detail about the contents of the report. Most importantly, I wish to place on the record of the House the appreciation of Deputies of the work done by the Garda Síochána, which dealt in a professional manner with the difficult situation which arose contrary to its expectations and professional judgments of the risk. Its response was measured, proportionate and effective. It is easy with hindsight to suggest what might or might not have been done to avoid what transpired. The duty of the Garda was to devise and implement a careful and professional policing plan based on the information available to it, as well as on its experience and judgment. While people might say the kind of trouble that occurred was predictable or inevitable, the simple fact is that the Garda authorities thought otherwise. If they did not have that viewpoint, they would have acted differently.

The document I have made available to Members makes it clear that there was no carelessness on the part of the Garda. There is no truth in the suggestion that the force's planning was hampered by a lack of resources. That suggestion has been made recently, but it is wholly and completely untrue. The Garda authorities have told me that no credible information was available to them to suggest that trouble in the form of public disorder on a grand scale would arise on Saturday. In their professional judgment, it was neither necessary nor appropriate to create a ring of steel around the marchers. They thought such an approach would have been over-the-top, counter-productive and possibly create an atmosphere of fear and trouble. If they had considered it necessary to put a ring of steel in place, they would have advised the organisers of that. In such circumstances, the venue of the march would have been altered or the event would have been cancelled, as appropriate. Many people have been quick to criticise the Garda for a lack of preparedness. Some of them have reminded us of the old Latin saying, si vis pacem, para bellum, if you want peace, prepare for war.

I do not suggest that lessons cannot be learned from what happened, because they will be learned. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, however. I can imagine the complaints which would have been made by some people if the Garda had closed down the city centre, including the shops and pubs on O'Connell Street, by sealing off the side streets, erecting barriers and making O'Connell Street a no-go zone in which the representatives of FAIR could march in isolation behind serried ranks of gardaí. That was not the intention of the event and it was not the strategy the Garda had in mind. I am satisfied that an enormous amount of preparation was made by the Garda ahead of last Saturday's demonstration. It is to be regretted that vicious opposition was encountered in the face of a reasonable and low-key law enforcement approach.

As I indicated earlier, yesterday evening I met the Garda Commissioner, who was able to furnish me with a preliminary report into Saturday's events. I emphasise that it is a preliminary report. As the ramifications of the events are considered, I hope the extent to which it was organised will be determined and those responsible and their networks will be the subject of rigorous pursuit. I hope the prosecution of those involved will follow.

I propose to set out some of the preliminary report's main points. I wish to make it perfectly clear that a comprehensive operational policing plan was in place prior to the weekend. The determination of subversive and thuggish elements to cause disruption should not be allowed to detract from the fact that the plan was far from being a seat-of-the-pants exercise. In advance of the day, a series of meetings was held between the relevant branches of the Garda Síochána, the parade organisers, Dublin City Council, the Health Service Executive and with various city centre trader organisations such as the Dublin City Business Association, which backed the Garda strategy. Officers were briefed in detail on how to respond to protestors and how to protect members of the public. Parnell Square and the parade route were searched in advance of the march, while arrangements were made with Dublin City Council for bins to be emptied and sealed. Six meetings were held to ensure the building works on O'Connell Street would be secured.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That was a success.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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In the course of the planning, all available policing methods were considered, including the use of water cannon. However, its deployment was ruled out on the basis of the information available. The PSNI possesses six water cannons which can be made available to the Garda if requested. The decision was made not to deploy them as they were not considered suitable for the occasion. I spoke to the Commissioner and he acknowledges the resources are there if he considers it a wise expenditure of money to purchase water cannons and have them on stand-by. His judgment is preferable to the judgment of most of us, and he takes the view that it would not be appropriate to use resources on such expenditure.

A total of 348 members of an Garda Síochána were on duty in the city centre last Saturday, dedicated exclusively to the task of policing the demonstration. That is a significantly higher number than would normally be deployed for an ordinary demonstration on O'Connell Street.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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That is not the number that was deployed in Shannon for the arrival of President Bush.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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As well as standard uniformed personnel, officers were drawn from the Garda mounted and dog units and the public order unit. Plain clothes officers were involved, along with 39 members of the special detective unit. Surveillance of the scene from the air was provided by the Garda air support unit. The Garda helicopter was functioning that day, but it unfortunately developed a problem which required its withdrawal before the events on O'Connell Street took place.

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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In other words, there was no air support.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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Emergency medical personnel from the ambulance service were also deployed as part of the public order unit.

A threat assessment was made based on the available intelligence, including information sought from the PSNI and the long experience of Garda officers based in city centre stations in dealing with protest marches over their careers. As anticipated, around 50 Republican Sinn Féin protestors congregated at the top of O'Connell Street to protest and attempt to disrupt the march. However — this was the really unexpected element — around 200 to 300 other people suddenly massed, many from streets and public houses close by, and began to attack Garda officers with a range of missiles, including billiard balls, fireworks and smoke bombs. In the course of the rioting that followed, two petrol bombs were hurled at the gardaí. As the situation developed, a further 138 Garda officers arrived to assist, including a group of 47 members drawn from the public order unit. The decision was taken by senior gardaí on the ground that the march down O'Connell Street to Dáil Éireann would not go ahead. I commend without hesitation what was clearly the correct decision, quickly taken in difficult circumstances by senior gardaí on the spot. Arrangements were made to move the loyalist demonstrators to the environs of Leinster House. Buses transported them here without incident where they had their march with their bands and they made their speeches. They caused offence to nobody.

I have shared with the House the gist of the Commissioner's report on the outrageous behaviour of last Saturday. Given the gravity of this situation and in order to be as expansive as possible, I have taken the unusual step of providing a synopsis of that report to Members. The Garda authorities are conducting a complete, painstaking and forensic analysis of all the evidence and material available to them. The evidence will be assembled and those responsible for the appalling behaviour on Dublin's streets last weekend will be pursued. They will face the full rigours of the law. I appeal to eyewitnesses to come forward to the Garda Síochána and to anyone with evidence, photographs or video material of the disturbances to hand it over to the Garda for examination. It is the constitutional duty of all citizens to co-operate with the Garda in its efforts to bring the perpetrators to book. I am confident the ordinary decent citizens of Dublin, who are angered by the activities of a small few, will co-operate fully with this investigation.

This was an attack on civil society, on civil liberty and on the very nature of a republic. Those who engaged in the wanton and mindless violence last weekend carry no mandate and their actions cannot be justified. There was no provocation. There was no behaviour by the organisers of the march to warrant what developed. The civil authorities were prepared to allow protestors stage a counter demonstration, as was their entitlement in a free society. No difficulty would have arisen from that counter demonstration on the scale anticipated by the Garda. I am sure that arising from the Garda experience, valuable lessons will be learned about the capacity of people to come from nowhere, as it were, to set upon innocent people. If the Garda had waited for the parade to start, a much more serious situation might easily have occurred.

The authorities will cooperate with the Health and Safety Authority in any follow up appropriate to that organisation's role and competence, as is the norm in such situations. However, it must be recognised that policing decisions must be taken by Garda management in the context of the best information available and the evolving situation. Deputy Kenny made the point, in his remarks to the Taoiseach earlier, that I am politically accountable for this. I accept my political accountability, but I ask the Deputy to accept that I had no hand, act or part in the arrangements that were made for that day.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I accept that.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The Minister should say that to Deputy O'Donoghue.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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It would be unusual for a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take a hands on role, or to determine the amount of resources that should be available. The question of resources was completely irrelevant to the decisions that were made on the day. The Garda Síochána had the resources of the whole force available, but made a well thought through decision that this was to be a low key demonstration, that it was not to be surrounded by a ring of steel and it was not to be conducted in a sealed off fashion, as has happened in Northern Ireland.

There are other public events which will take place in our capital city, many of them celebratory, that may now have to be considered in the context of the experiences of the past weekend. The events themselves may be different in nature, but the Garda will not be able to ignore what transpired. It will be our priority to take whatever steps are practicable to ensure no drunken rabble ever again besmirches the good name of our capital city as it did in recent days. Once again, I condemn the wanton, mindless violence that a small few visited upon the streets of Dublin last Saturday. I want to send out a message to all those who took part in the violence. The Garda Síochána is determined that they will be pursued and brought to justice. I also want to send a message to those so-called republicans who deny the wishes of the Irish people for a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland, or who at best adopt an À la carte approach to constitutional rights and the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Their actions and example provide the fuel that helped to ignite naked sectarianism on the streets of Dublin for the first time in a long time. Their actions expose them and their political associates — elected and unelected — for what they are. They remind us of the danger these people constitute and strengthen our determination to consign their methods and standards to the dustbin of history. Democracy will be the winner and the people of Dublin and Ireland will not be confused about the main issue by finger-pointing in this House. They know who were to blame and that the hand of history lies on their shoulders.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I intend to share time with Deputy Crawford.

I am sure I speak for all Members of the House when I express my disgust at the disgraceful scenes that took place on the streets of Dublin last Saturday. This appalling behaviour on the part of a tiny but well managed gang of so-called republicans and thugs has no place in a republic. Those who believe that this parade should not be allowed to proceed are the people with the real partitionist mentality.

I am glad this debate is being held today and that Deputy Kenny's proposal that a suitable motion is passed — I hope unanimously — by the House has been accepted by the Government. It is important that Members of the House condemn this violence, unanimously if possible. We must make it clear that those involved do not represent the Irish people and that our commitment to the reconciliation and mutual respect enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement is sincerely held.

Last Saturday's planned parade by the victims of IRA violence was a political event, one which had the approval of the Government — I approved of it too. However, the political significance of the event made it more important to ensure that it went off peacefully. This was the first loyalist parade in Dublin in living memory and the obvious implication was that there was a responsibility on the part of the Government, particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and senior Garda management to ensure that the event was adequately policed so the participants, the public and the gardaí were not put in danger. I am glad the Minister accepted his political accountability and responsibility in this regard.

Saturday's Love Ulster rally was an unprecedented event. The idea that Unionists, loyalists or Orangemen would want to parade in Dublin would not have been thought of until recently. Last Saturday, they came to Dublin and intended to march past the GPO. This was an historic occasion, without precedent in the history of the State. Obviously, the consequences of that unprecedented proposal could not be fully anticipated. This is the crucial issue. The Government and senior gardaí had to ensure the safety and security of the marchers and onlookers, and that required exceptional precautions, security measures and contingency plans.

The Minister used the phrase si vis pacem, para bellum— if one wants peace, one prepares for war. However, the Minister's responsibility is in the phrase salus populis suprema est lex— the safety of the people is the first law. That must be the central approach of a Minister with responsibility for justice. The Government and senior gardaí were tested on a number of fronts and they failed. Indeed, the only redeeming feature of last Saturday was the courage and bravery of the gardaí. In uniform on the front line, many of them young recruits, they opposed with courage and bravery the thugs and hoodlums and ensured our visitors were fully protected.

The failure occurred because of a broader issue. We were claiming to be a fully mature democracy, capable of hosting such a march in our capital city. Clearly, we are not yet mature even though, after 85 years, Ireland is the third oldest continuous democracy in Europe. We will not be fully mature until such marches can take place unmolested and without exceptional security and protection measures.

Our failure allowed a bunch of neo-nationalist fascist thugs from the so-called republican movement to organise a riot with the assistance of gurriers and bums gathered from the streets and pubs of Dublin. The so-called republican element threatened to disrupt the march and it succeeded. Saturday, therefore, was a day of shame for this State.

What we must do now is draw conclusions from what happened. Obviously, there must be unreserved and unanimous condemnation of the so-called republican elements who organised the riot. They must be pursued, identified, charged and brought to justice. We must be proud of the gardaí who were in the front line. Most of them were in ordinary uniform, without even the protection of helmets. They were a target for those hurtling bricks and stones. The Minister has outlined why there were only 250 gardaí with a back-up of 40 or 50 members of the riot squad. This contrasts with the 5,000 who were deployed in the city for the European Council meeting in 2004.

Another issue is why the gardaí were so ill-equipped. Why was there no personal protection? Why were gardaí wearing soft hats in the front line? Why were helmets not available, as they were when the European Council met? The Minister referred to the water cannon. It was not borrowed from the PSNI but we should have one available. While I understand the desire not to have a big show of force on the front line, back-up should be readily available for such situations. That includes a water cannon. Another chapter of misfortune was what happened to the helicopter which, apparently, did not take to the air until nearly 4 p.m. because of technical hitches.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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It was in the air but had to come down.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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According to the report, it was not in the air at the relevant time. With all due respect, it was not much use early in the morning or late in the evening.

The issue of what prior knowledge existed is also relevant. According to the Taoiseach the dogs in the street in his constituency knew that a riot was being prepared. There is ample evidence available of an organised effort. There must be a stringent analysis of what took place and why it took place. While it is helpful to have the report from senior management of the Garda Síochána, it is not sufficient. We must learn lessons from what happened. We must learn what steps were taken and if they were adequate. What was the situation with intelligence? What risk assessment was made of that intelligence? We must plan for the future and, with parades scheduled for St. Patrick's Day, May day and on other occasions, we must ensure these events will not be open to being hijacked by subversive and criminal elements.

I have a proposal which the Minister might consider. If we take the view that we must learn from what happened and try to prevent it happening again, the right approach is to establish a small independent group to examine what occurred last Saturday. I do not intend that this group should assign blame to anybody, even the Minister — I am not trying to make politics of this matter. I would like a small independent group to examine the matter to isolate problems and suggest solutions which would be useful for the future. The group I have in mind would be composed of three persons, perhaps the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, some senior political figure who is not now involved in the political arena, such as Alan Dukes or Nora Owen, who have past experience in the Department of Justice——

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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That is not surprising. Who is the last person?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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As could Ray Burke.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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——and a senior police officer or a former senior police officer from outside the country with experience in the area of public disorder.

Our main aim should be to assess what happened, why it happened, how it happened, learn lessons from what happened and, above all, make sure we are not shamed again in our capital city. The proposed group should be quickly established and should have support and a secretariat to work with it, and it should be asked to produce a report within three months. This would be the way forward and would ensure that out of this shame and disorder, something constructive can be gained for the future.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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What happened on Saturday is unforgivable and unacceptable. It is not long ago — I think it was last Easter — when the group that sits beside me in the House organised a march down the same street with balaclavas and all sorts of regalia showing what it stood for. Nobody passed any remarks and that march was allowed to take place. Despite all the sentiment questioning which route should have been used, it was the route that all of us have used, I perhaps more often than anyone else in the House, as farm organisations and Monaghan hospital groups have often walked that route in protest. It is the accepted route.

My worry, above all, concerns the damage this has done to the peace process. It is clear it did not happen by accident and was not spontaneous. The bottles were in the bins from the night before and the petrol bombs were prepared. People brought what weapons they had with them — they were not all from the building sites. Questions must be asked. The most important issue is to check the identities of the perpetrators who show up on video or in photographs and discover whom they are associated with.

This did not happen by accident. We all knew the dissidents — the Real IRA and whatever the other group is called — intended to have a sit-down protest but nobody expected the hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who took part in the way they did to totally destroy the name of our capital city and our nation across the world.

At the time a group of people was doing that in Dublin, others in the peace process were trying to break down barriers between the different organisations in Northern Ireland. This work cannot be forgotten. It is the quiet, useful work that is done on a weekly and monthly basis without any show, pomp or ceremony. While I was not involved, I know others who were involved in such work in Belfast on the same day the other group was in Dublin trying to do as much damage as possible.

It is important the marchers who came to Dublin were protected. I give credit to the gardaí involved for ensuring the marchers got to Leinster House for a short period and returned to Belfast, Antrim, Down and elsewhere in safety. At least their spokespersons could see they got the protection of the Garda, which was important.

We must learn from this experience, which cannot happen again. Whether it be the Easter commemorations this year or a possible visit by the Queen, which is on the cards, we must make absolutely certain that whatever information is needed is obtained in time and utilised, and that the necessary action is taken to ensure people do not get away with what they to some degree got away with on Saturday.

I congratulate the members of the Garda Síochána at every level for the tremendous efforts they have made. It was an unforeseen circumstance to some degree but it is vital that they survived. It is vital the media were seen to be independent and that they, or anyone else who has video evidence, provide information to ensure the criminals who carried out this act are brought to justice.

It must be made clear that this is a republic and the people are entitled to free speech. Whoever wants to march has the right to march and this right does not just belong to a small few. As Deputy Jim O'Keeffe noted, this was the first occasion on which this group asked to come to Dublin, although marches have taken place in the Border area. Deputy McGinley will know of the marches that take place in County Donegal every July, which pass off peacefully and during which local people make the marchers welcome. Unfortunately, some people decided this should not happen in Dublin. They are the ones in the wrong. They must be brought to justice and we depend on the Minister to ensure that happens.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Rioting, destruction, personal injury and public disorder on the scale experienced on Dublin streets on Saturday made this emergency debate inevitable and the principle of Dáil accountability requires the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be here to answer questions on the information available to him about the disgraceful events on Saturday. It is with some disbelief that I see the Minister is indeed present but literally on his own on the Government benches, with only a solitary Fianna Fáil backbencher present.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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He makes up in quality what he lacks in quantity.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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They are gone for their pancakes.

6:00 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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For those of us who served on that side of the House, memories are long enough to recall the mischief that would be made by Fianna Fáil if the office of Minister for Justice was held by a Fine Gael or Labour Party Deputy. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has also absented himself. He made a career from indicting the Minister for Justice of the day if a letter went missing. Now, we have had mayhem on the streets of the capital city and only one single Government backbencher considers it necessary to present in the House for the debate.

Responsibility for public safety and maintenance of public order rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. Was there misjudgment on his part? Were gardaí ill-prepared or inadequately resourced and protected? Has the Government grown so complacent in the thicket of rhetoric about the peace process that it was caught off guard? These are some of the questions this debate must answer.

It is hard to overstate the seriousness of what happened on the streets of our capital city last Saturday and there is a number of aspects to this affair that require to be considered. A group of people from Northern Ireland who wanted to hold a peaceful march through Dublin to highlight a particular viewpoint, and who co-operated fully with the Garda in terms of all organisational details, were denied the opportunity to do so by the thuggish behaviour of a violent minority. That is a poor day for our democracy.

Gardaí were subjected to attacks of shocking savagery, with men and women of the force subjected to a hail of petrol bombs and missiles. Some were injured and others were exposed to injury. We saw unleashed a strain of venomous sectarianism that most people hoped had begun to disappear from our society. We saw the wanton destruction of property, the terrorising of people about their lawful business on a Saturday afternoon, and attacks on journalists and photographers. We saw the Garda struggle to contain the situation and regain control of the streets. It is important that there be a full review of the Garda operation if we are to ensure that such a situation is never again repeated and that gardaí and citizens are not again placed at risk.

An essential component of any democratic society is the right to dissent, the right to hold and promote views that are not the views of the majority. That right must be upheld peacefully and in accordance with the law. The Love Ulster organisation is a group whose views would probably not be shared by the majority of society in this jurisdiction. FAIR, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, is an organisation made up primarily of those whose relatives were murdered by republican paramilitary organisations. Like many others who lost relatives in the violence in Northern Ireland, they believe that their murdered loved ones have become forgotten victims. They believe, probably with some validity, that Protestant victims of republican violence have not received the attention they should have south of the Border. They were entitled to come to Dublin to seek to highlight this particular grievance. I am amazed at the quarters from which one has heard criticism of the march being allowed to take place. Not everyone was going to like the message they were putting forward, but they were entitled to put it forward. Under the Constitution, they have an automatic right to citizenship of this State and are just as entitled to walk our streets as any other political organisation or lobby group.

By all accounts, the organisers of the planned parade acted responsibly. They made contact at every stage with the Garda. As I understand it, they took the advice of the Garda on all organisational matters. The organisers of the aborted demonstration cannot in any way be blamed for the violence that broke out in Dublin on Saturday. Those who set out to ensure that this parade did not take place were directing their hostility not just towards those who planned to march but also towards the values that all democrats hold dear — tolerance, non-sectarianism and respecting the views of others — which are values that should be the norm for anyone who considers him or herself to be a republican. The real test of our tolerance is not accepting those marches with which we agree, but accepting the right of those with whom we might disagree to parade peacefully.

While I regard the failure of the march to take place to be a defeat for democracy, I also acknowledge that had the marchers insisted on exercising their right to parade and had the Garda taken the decision to try to force the parade through, the result might have been much worse. It seems evident that those who wanted this parade stopped were prepared to unleash any level of violence to ensure that this happened. It seems quite likely that had the parade been forced down O'Connell Street, people may well have died or at least been seriously maimed. Events as they were on Saturday will have set back North-South relations. Death or serious injury to the marchers would have done irreparable damage.

One of the things that shocked me most about Saturday's events was the venomous sectarian abuse unleashed against those who wanted to march. While we might like to see ourselves as a modern, tolerant, pluralist society, what was revealed on Saturday was a vile sectarianism that is not far below the surface in some sections of society in this country. Sectarianism is not simply confined to the Orange Order or the DUP. We need to confront and challenge sectarianism in all its forms. We need to recognise that many of those who attempt to pass themselves off as republicans have little to offer other than a form sectarian bigotry. Indeed, when one scratches the surface of the principal republican organisations, ranging from the Provisional IRA to the Continuity IRA, one will find a significant underbelly of sectarianism that is counter to everything for which Wolfe Tone stood.

In recent years and especially since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we have seen a subtle attempt to rewrite the history of Northern Ireland and, in particular, the role of the IRA. The campaign of the IRA was never about civil rights or democracy, nor was it the glorious, noble war of liberation that some would have us believe. The reality is that it was a sordid, seedy, brutish terrorist campaign that was directed in the main against the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. The IRA was responsible for the deaths of more than 850 Protestants during 30 years of mayhem. We must not forget this. Having said that, there is no evidence, as seems to have been confirmed by the Minister's earlier contribution, that Sinn Féin was involved in Saturday's disorder. If that is the case, then the House should note it.

We also need to exercise caution in the way in which we plan to commemorate key events in Irish history, such as the 1916 Rising. Nothing should be done that would deepen divisions, further inflame passions or give those who caused such mayhem in Dublin further excuse to vent their sectarian hatred. We need to look at practices that may promote sectarian attitudes, even unconsciously, in our society. We need to look at new models that could facilitate the greater integration of children from different religions. We need to do more for groups like Educate Together that promote multi-denominational or non-denominational education.

Crude tribalism can manifest itself in several ways. For example, it can contaminate sport. There has been much comment, including in the Taoiseach's contribution, on the presence of so many young men in Glasgow Celtic football shirts on Saturday. The presence of young men in Glasgow Rangers shirts has been a similar feature of much anti-Catholic rioting in Northern Ireland. There has been a tendency in this country to treat the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers as a bit of harmless fun. However, it is nothing of the sort. While both clubs have made some efforts to counter the tribalism associated with their teams, both sets of supporters include in their ranks those whose principal preoccupation is not football but sectarian hatred of the other side. Of additional concern is that some attempts appear to have been made by a minority of soccer supporters in this country to graft that sectarian element onto Irish soccer.

Different elements appear to have been involved in the violence on Saturday. It seems beyond dispute that a significant degree of planning and preparation was put into the counter-demonstration. It was clear that those involved were determined to stop the march and were prepared to inflict serious injury and even death on marchers, gardaí and bystanders to ensure this happened.

Petrol bombs do not spontaneously appear. People do not walk around town on Saturday mornings with golf balls, snooker balls and other convenient missiles in their pocket. All the available evidence points to a significant level of co-ordination through the use of mobile phones and text messaging to get people to the top of O'Connell Street and then to move them to other locations as the violence spread. Clearly an element also turned up in the hope of trouble and availed of the opportunity to riot, attack gardaí with particular viciousness, loot and destroy. I hope that no effort will be spared to bring to justice those described by the Dublin city manager, Mr. John Fitzgerald, as "a lethal cocktail of extreme republicans and a rag bag of hangers on". While the primary target of the Garda investigation should be the planners and the organisers, those opportunists who also took advantage of the violence must also be brought to account.

A huge amount of photographic evidence already published should assist the Garda investigation. I hope the courts will deal firmly with those who are charged and convicted. It is also appropriate that we should look at the adequacy of the planning and preparation of the Garda operation to seek to learn the appropriate lessons so that similar scenes might be avoided in the future. I was shocked by the level of violence and abuse directed at the Garda Síochána. On behalf of the Labour Party, I express my sympathy to members of the force — men and women — who were injured. I praise the courage shown by gardaí and acknowledge that without their efforts we might now well be dealing with the aftermath of an even more disastrous set of events.

Representative organisations of the Garda rank and file have expressed concern about the level of planning and preparation for the policing operation and raised questions that must be answered. Why was there apparently no warning about the violence, which clearly required a significant level of preparation? Despite the ceasefires and the huge reduction in the threat from paramilitary organisations, we still have a very significant Garda special branch and intelligence section. Why did it pick up nothing?

According to the Taoiseach, "on the lanes at the back of O'Connell St. they had bins of bottles which had obviously been stored there overnight. So it had been organised." The thought occurs that, if the situation was as the Taoiseach has said, why was it not picked up by, or passed on to, the Garda? It was interesting to hear the Minister go out of his way to tell us how the gardaí secured the bins. The Minister stated in his speech that "arrangements were made with Dublin City Council for bins to be emptied and sealed". According to the Taoiseach, the bins were neither emptied nor sealed. One wonders why, given all this information buzzing around his constituency, the Taoiseach did not pass it on to the Minister or at least to the Garda. In addition, RTE news bulletins on Saturday night quoted the Taoiseach as saying that there had been word in his constituency on Friday night that trouble was likely. It is not clear whether the Taoiseach heard these reports on Friday night, but if that was the case he must say what, if anything, he did about them.

Were the Garda numbers sufficient to cope with the threat? According to the secretary of the Garda Representative Association, Mr. Stone, the Garda authorities decided to police the protest on the cheap, with the result that at 2 p.m. Garda chiefs were ringing Kells and Tullamore in the search for reinforcements. For example, I am informed that the superintendent at Store Street made a plea in advance of the demonstration for extra manpower, but the plea was refused. How was it that gardaí in ordinary uniforms and without protective gear of any description found themselves at the front line — especially in the early part of the proceedings — and defenceless against the hail of missiles to which they were subjected? How was it that greater efforts were not made to secure what amounts to a massive building site on the upper part of O'Connell Street? This was surely one of the most serious errors made, as it provided virtually an arsenal of additional weapons for those involved?

Were the tactics used by the Garda the most effective for containing the violence once it started? Was it wise, as appears to have happened, to try simply to push the rioters down O'Connell Street, where they were able to terrorise shoppers and inflict vast damage? I heard the Minister praise the fact that the protesters were transported from Parnell Square to outside Leinster House, but I wonder whether that was the correct thing to do. Ought they not to have been secured and safely sent on their way home? Bringing the demonstrators to Leinster House was the cause of what subsequently happened in Nassau Street and South Frederick Street, where the Minister's party's headquarters were subjected to a disgraceful attack.

All these questions and others must be answered comprehensively by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — if not today as a matter of urgency — if we are not to be confronted with another potentially violent situation in our capital city. In a different context, the Minister stated:

As Minister I have overall responsibility for the operation of the Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system and it is a responsibility that I take seriously. While it is correct to say that I have no direct role in investigation or prosecution of criminal offences, I certainly do have a role in oversight and political accountability in relation to the policing of the Irish State.

The Minister cannot, therefore, dodge behind any distinction between policy and operations. He cannot seek to delimit his responsibilities for what must be admitted was a debacle in security, intelligence and policing that can only inflict further damage on an increasingly fragile peace process. I hope the Minister will deal with the questions I have outlined when he responds. If he cannot deal with them today, the House must be prepared to come back to the subject when comprehensive answers are available.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I intend to share my time with Deputies Crowe, Joe Higgins and Gregory.

I compliment members of an Garda Síochána on their courage in the front line on Saturday and applaud the work they carried out. However, it must be asked whether the organisers of the Love Ulster parade really believed that marching through the streets of Dublin would further the peace process on this island. On a practical level, there were significant difficulties with the resources and intelligence that were brought to bear on Saturday's events. The Minister said that if we want peace we should prepare for war, but I believe we should hope for the best while preparing for the worst. I do not think such preparations were made on Saturday, given that gardaí on the front line were left without the right clothing for a long period to battle missiles that ranged from rocks to wheelbarrows. With proper policing, gardaí who were not properly equipped would have been removed from the front line very quickly, but that did not happen on Saturday.

I do not know what the Garda knew in advance of Saturday's march, but I know that I was worried beforehand. Republican Sinn Féin had warned of violence and the word on the Internet was that violence could occur. The dogs on the street and the dogs in the blogs knew that there might be violence. Mobile phone text messages seem to have played their part in the rapid escalation on Saturday. Indymedia suggests that a "flashmob" was in operation on Saturday, but modern technology certainly seems to have allowed things to escalate very quickly. I am not convinced that the Garda Síochána is on top of the kind of technology that was being used in the days, hours and minutes prior to the violence.

Dublin City Council does not seem to have been on top of things either. It is regrettable that missile material was available behind a fence that could simply be lifted up and pushed over by a couple of people. Failure to control the building site meant that material that could be used as missiles was not cleared away from the street.

The protesters seem to have been a mixture of Republican Sinn Féin supporters, a small group of self-styled anarchists and a fairly significant group of the disaffected in Irish society. I do not for a second defend the violence that occurred, but I believe the Minister must answer questions on why these young people were so disaffected that they turned away from society. As a right-wing Minister, Deputy McDowell has lauded policies that reduce the State's involvement in communities. Saturday's events clearly show that the State must be involved in building up communities not through tax breaks but in social programmes. Instead of the tax breaks the Government has provided for superpubs and car parks, we need more investment in communities through FÁS, RAPID areas, education and housing. We need investment in sports facilities, parks and playgrounds rather than in horses and greyhounds. We need a change in the Government's priorities.

The social exclusion and poverty that led to the Gregory deal some 20 years ago have not gone away. The violence and riots that took place in Paris last summer resonate with what we saw on the streets of Dublin last Saturday.

Photo of Michael MulcahyMichael Mulcahy (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Rubbish.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Deputy Mulcahy thinks he knows everything. I am glad to see the intelligence of Government Deputies revealed.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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That is the intelligence on which they depend.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The underbelly of the Celtic tiger was exposed last Saturday. I urge the Minister to address the exclusion, as well as the criminality, that gave rise to the violence. Racism, bigotry and evil stalked the streets of Dublin, but there was also evidence that the State must increase its efforts to tackle social exclusion in 21st century Ireland.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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The events in Dublin last Saturday were an absolute disgrace. Those who took part misused the name of Irish republicanism and nationalism, but they were anything but Irish republicans or nationalists in the real sense. They were a tiny and unrepresentative minority, a mixture of people on the fringes of micro-political groups, football hooligans and drink-fuelled opportunists, a ragbag who saw the chance to create havoc and took it.

Sinn Féin has been consistent on this issue since Willie Frazer and his so-called Love Ulster and FAIR groups first emerged. While we profoundly disagree with Mr. Frazer, we chose not to oppose his group's march down O'Connell Street, notwithstanding the fact that we believe it was deliberately provocative and insensitively organised. It is the right of all citizens of this island to march down the capital's main thoroughfare, no matter what part of that island they live on. We also believe in people's right to hold peaceful counter-demonstrations. However, both those rights come with responsibilities. Marchers must not engage in sectarian or abusive behaviour, and counter-demonstrators must refrain from physically engaging with them. Proper stewarding by those participating in demonstrations and by the Garda is crucial in that respect, and neither was in evidence last Saturday.

Sinn Féin made clear that we wanted people to try to ignore that march. We instructed our membership not to go anywhere near it. Martin McGuinness made that very point at the Dublin Sinn Féin annual general meeting only two weeks ago. Deputy Ó Caoláin gave the Sinn Féin position on a recent episode of "Questions and Answers". I made several statements before the march, up to the point of calling on people to desist while the rioting was in progress. Saturday's thuggery also served to obscure debate on the real nature of Mr. Frazer's group. Those who engaged in the violence and destruction gave them exactly what they wanted, playing into Mr. Frazer's hands and allowing him to claim moral high ground to which he is not entitled. He has gloried in the actions of loyalist death squads and today is trying to blame the President for Saturday's trouble.

I would like to use this opportunity to defend the role of Dublin City Council which bears no responsibility for the riot. Its workers acted quickly to make the streets safe and rubble free again. It is important to point out that Saturday's riots have no implications for the peace process. We are determined to see progress made in the coming weeks and months. For Sinn Féin, that includes reaching out to the Unionist community. Unlike those who misused our national flag last weekend, I take the tricolour's message very seriously: unity, peace and equality between orange and green.

Tony Gregory (Dublin Central, Independent)
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There is a temptation to offer expert opinion regarding what should have been done last Saturday. That is always very easy in hindsight. However, I will resist that temptation other than to state as a local representative, O'Connell Street being in the very centre of my constituency, that it is now self-evident that the most obvious error of judgment must have been the decision to allow it to be used by the marchers, given the road works, the fencing, the maze of side streets, the stockpile of ammunition and the pre-announced determination by certain elements that the loyalists should not pass certain sensitive locations. All that presented the Garda with an exceptionally difficult task. There was clearly a breakdown in intelligence gathering. I do not know who decided on the route, but I assume that the buck stops with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. As usual, he has managed to divert attention from that fact.

I strongly oppose any suggestion that this be used as an excuse to restrict in any way people's right to protest on O'Connell Street or elsewhere in the city centre by way of by-laws, as the Taoiseach seemed to suggest.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Tony Gregory (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I am glad to see that the motion before us reaffirms the right to peaceful protest and demonstration. I hope it means what it says. As an elected representative for the O'Connell Street area, I refer to allegations that local people were heavily involved on Saturday. Of those charged whose addresses were listed, not one was from the constituency. If that changes when others are arrested, so be it. However, at the moment, any suggestion that the north inner city was somehow partly to blame is not based on the available evidence.

As my time is limited, I will briefly address the loyalist organisation FAIR. I read in The Irish Times on Saturday that Mr. Frazer, the leader of the group, is quite happy to justify loyalist sectarian murderers and that he had "a lot of time" for Billy Wright, the serial sectarian murderer and psychopath. While it may not be politically correct to say it, the individual in question appears to be far from fair.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Tony Gregory (Dublin Central, Independent)
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The families of the innocent victims must have a right to protest and highlight their sense of loss, from whatever part of this island they hail. I only wish that those families from across the North's divide — there were many innocent victims on both sides — and people such as the relatives of the Dublin and Monaghan bombing victims in the South might march together some day to highlight the futility of sectarian violence from whatever source.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The Socialist Party condemns those who orchestrated Saturday's violence. It was a sectarian riot to prevent the Love Ulster group marching through Dublin. My party believes that the Love Ulster campaign is based on sectarianism and that its activities heighten sectarian divisions and encourage disunity among working class people, especially in Northern Ireland. We strongly oppose the political agenda and the activities of Love Ulster, but we recognise its right to march and protest in the centre of Dublin. The Socialist Party equally recognises the rights of others to indicate peaceful opposition to Love Ulster through disciplined protest, but they have no right to stop others marching as happened on Saturday in Dublin. My party strongly opposes the political agenda of both orange and green sectarians, whether in the North or on the streets of Dublin.

Let us contrast Saturday's disgusting scenes with those of a few weeks ago, when striking postal workers in Belfast, Protestant and Catholic, marched together up the Shankill Road and down the Falls Road in a united working class demonstration. With the many groups and individuals subjected to disgraceful violence on Saturday, I highlight violent assaults against workers, including migrant workers, in their workplaces, particularly shops, by the thugs who participated. Clearly, the Good Friday Agreement is not providing a solution. It could not do so, since it is the institutionalisation of sectarian division. Therefore, I register my dissent and formally oppose that section of the motion before us.

The key task remaining is forging unity among working class people within Northern Ireland and North and South and, in so doing, ensuring all communities and individuals can live free from sectarian conflict. However, the British and Irish Governments which push neo liberal and right-wing economic agendas at the expense of those working class communities are not the ones to show the way forward in this respect.

I wish to issue a strong, loud and clear warning to senior Dublin City Council officials and anyone in the Government who echoes the call made yesterday by the Dublin city manager. Effectively, he called for the right to democratically organise, protest and march in Dublin city centre to be curbed and restricted. Disgracefully, the Taoiseach echoed that call today. It is disgraceful that the hooliganism of a tiny few, who sought to curb the freedom to march on Saturday, should be seized on by city council bureaucrats to curb our freedom to march peacefully and express ourselves on a whole range of issues that concern ordinary people, workers and working class communities. All, whether it be the farming community, trade unions, community organisations or political organisations, have the democratic right to come to the centre of their capital city and show their cause. Just as working class people of Dublin, with one of their great leaders, Jim Larkin, exerted their right to bring their movement, grievances and cause on to O'Connell Street in the time leading up to and during the monumental events and struggle for justice by workers in 1913, we will not tolerate any attempts by bureaucrats or anyone else to prevent our right to demonstrate peacefully and democratically in the centre of this city of Dublin.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Kehoe.

Like other Members, I condemn those responsible for turning the heart of our capital city into a riot zone last Saturday. It is unfortunate that some Members have chosen to try to switch the blame to the Garda, to politicians, to local authorities or anyone apart from the actual culprits who started the riots. I condemn those who are so bigoted and narrow-minded in their thinking that they would prevent free speech and a peaceful march by victims of IRA violence in Northern Ireland. While many may not share the political views of those in the Love Ulster movement, I had thought that Irish society was sufficiently mature to facilitate a march in our capital city of the type proposed on Saturday, along with a counter-protest — if people felt it to be necessary — but without resorting to the kind of vicious violence and brutality which we saw. It seems there was a small group of people who planned and organised affairs to ensure that the carnage was sparked off and that it continued. Thugs, fuelled with drink and easily-led disaffected youths joined in to promote havoc which caused disbelief and terror amongst onlookers going about their business in Dublin city centre, on the Saturday afternoon of a rugby international weekend.

The images transmitted around the European Union and further afield bring shame on Ireland. In many ways, we have been a model of economic growth and prosperity. We have been a real success story, a maturing small democracy which many others want to copy and use as a model within the European Union. However, Saturday's scenes sent out an awful message of intolerance and hatred. They reinforced the view among some, who do not understand the complicated nature of our peace process, that we still have far to go. Those who organised Saturday's events have no right to call themselves republicans or Nationalists and I was glad to hear so many Members repeat that sentiment today. They brought shame on those terms. While they preach that they are fighting for a united Ireland, all they create is division and further hatred. Such people will never unite Ireland. That will only be achieved by those who can accept and promote tolerance of all strands and backgrounds on our island.

I am encouraged by the isolation, since Saturday's riots, of those responsible. Clearly they are a small and withering minority in Irish society. However, Members should be in no doubt that they are still there. We must learn some lessons from Saturday's events. A silver lining can emerge from this dark cloud by ensuring such events will never be repeated. We must examine why so many young gardaí found themselves exposed in an unacceptable manner. There appear to have been e-mails, texts and telephone calls circulating before Saturday that warned people not to be in the city centre. We must establish why the Garda felt it was not necessary to take such warnings more seriously. Where was Garda intelligence in this respect? Members must ensure they receive a detailed report from the Garda which is not afraid to be critical. This is why I support my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's call for an independent assessment of the events. It should be blunt and to the point to acquire the desired constructive criticism to ensure the events of Saturday are not repeated.

A balance must be struck between over-policing, or having a police state. People may well have accused us of having such a state had we overdone it on Saturday. At the same time, we must ensure people can go about their business safely and that their constitutional rights are protected, as the Minister noted in his opening statement.

Lessons must also be learned from a political perspective. Those who organised this disgraceful event probably call themselves republicans of sorts. Their actions on Saturday were completely counterproductive and have handed a political victory to those they claim to oppose in Northern Ireland, by causing further division and by reinforcing a mind set among some north of the Border to the effect that Unionists and loyalists are not welcome in Dublin, the Republic's capital city. I was glad to hear Deputy Crowe's comments in the debate today and I hope Members will hear more comments of that nature from Sinn Féin in the future. I hope its members mean them.

Members should not begin to change the nature of this debate into one on social deprivation or a lack of community or social policies on the Government's part. This was naked and blatant sectarianism on the streets of Dublin from the Celtic jersey brigade who unfortunately also bring shame to football and to that football club. We must prepare better for such events and must ensure that we do not provide a platform for similar people to inflict the kind of damage wrought in so many areas last Saturday, or to allow it to happen again.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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First and foremost, I congratulate gardaí for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with this situation on Saturday. They found themselves in an extremely difficult situation on Saturday afternoon. Although lacking resources, a small number of gardaí put their lives at risk to protect the citizens of this State. Their actions are highly commendable and Members should consider themselves lucky to have people of such calibre in the force. However, it is unfortunate that the same level of commitment in dealing with this demonstration did not come from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. As the political head of the Garda Síochána, the Minister must be held accountable for what happened on the streets of Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

I was attending the Young Fine Gael conference when I heard and saw the live images from the streets of Dublin. It was absolutely horrific and I could not believe it could happen in my own country, especially within the centre of Dublin city. Images were broadcast across the world of a violent riot in our capital which should not have been permitted to happen. It should have been a weekend of celebration as an international rugby match was to be played and many tourists were in the city. They were frightened to witness what took place. Hopefully this will not turn them away and was a once-off event.

The first issue that must be examined is the preparation and planning of such an event or march. As we have never experienced any demonstration of this kind in Dublin, surely common sense would dictate that being over-prepared, rather than under-prepared, would have been the best course of action. On Friday evening, as the Taoiseach acknowledged, the word on the street was that there would be trouble on Saturday and citizens, not belonging to any political organisation or to any republican organisation, were receiving e-mails to be off the streets in Dublin on Saturday afternoon because trouble was expected.

The word even reached some taxi-drivers. A taxi-driver to whom I spoke on Thursday told me that trouble was expected on Saturday. The e-mail circulating widely was brought to the attention of the Garda by one Fine Gael councillor, which is reported in The Star newspaper today. Even at that stage, the Minister did not put any additional manpower or any necessary procedures in place to make our streets safe on Saturday afternoon.

What happened on Saturday also draws attention to the under resourcing of the Garda Síochána, not only in terms of manpower. We are still waiting for the extra thousands of gardaí the Minister promised during the last general election campaign. The Garda is totally under resourced.

I ask the Minister to refer in his concluding remarks to the water-cannon borrowed from the RUC in 1994 and used effectively by the Garda Síochána at the time.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Completely unnecessarily.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Has the Garda such equipment? The Minister has some serious questions to answer. What did he anticipate on Saturday afternoon? Did he expect trouble? Did he speak to senior Garda management, prior to Thursday, Friday or Saturday, about the demonstration that was about to take place? Does he have plans to review procedures to deal with such demonstrations? Like my colleague, I too want to see an independent review of what happened on Saturday. I also support the motion that will come before the House this evening.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my brief time with my colleague, Deputy Mulcahy.

Dublin can be heaven, as they say, but it certainly was not last Saturday. We all have been appalled by the scenes we saw in our city last Saturday. I speak as a native Dubliner, born and reared in this parish. I was not in the city on Saturday, but the images I saw were horrendous.

I welcome the presence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. It is good that he has remained in the House and listened to what we are saying, and I expect that he will be able to respond.

The acts of thuggery and brutality have no place in a modern democracy or on the streets of this capital city. Clearly the small minority behind the riots were intent on causing the maximum amount of destruction and if it were not for the brave actions of the men and women of the Garda Síochána, the damage and injuries inflicted on innocent Dubliners would have been even more serious. Those who resort to such acts have no place in our city and must be brought to justice. Their actions threatened people as they went about their everyday business. We have heard all those stories, read the newspapers, listened to Mr. Joe Duffy's radio show, etc. The thugs showed complete contempt for the Garda and for anyone who happened to get in their way. It is clear there was a small minority who travelled to the city centre last Saturday with only one intention, to create mayhem.

The 350 gardaí who policed last Saturday's demonstration came under a hail of bricks, bottles, petrol bombs and other missiles, while members of the media were also subject to attacks, as were innocent shoppers and passersby. An attack on the Garda is an attack on us all and that is completely unacceptable. I wish all those injured a speedy recovery.

The full resources of the law must now be used to bring those responsible to justice. There can be no excuse for what happened. Thugs have no place in our communities and I, like all Dubliners, want to see them removed from our streets. Gardaí have already started bringing those responsible to justice. I understand that almost 40 arrests were made on Saturday. I have every confidence that in the days ahead those who managed to escape will be brought to justice.

I also welcome the fact that the Government has received a preliminary report, through the Minister, Deputy McDowell, on the issues arising from Saturday and will get a more detailed report in the future.

It is also important to make absolutely clear that those who went on the rampage do not represent republicans or republican values. It is our duty to ensure this small violent minority does not tar our tolerant republican ideals. Those who rioted have nothing in common with the heroes of 1916. They instead share a bigoted bond with the likes of the British National Party or Combat 18.

Many of my constituents were caught in the middle of this violence. Thankfully, they did not suffer injuries but it is the Garda they have to thank for this. In the days and weeks ahead, the gardaí investigating the crimes of last Saturday deserve every possible support. There can be no excuse for thuggery and no hiding place for thugs.

As a Dublin based Deputy, I have every confidence in the professionalism, effectiveness and bravery of gardaí. They have, once again, placed themselves in the front-line to protect us all. This is not a time for giving in to thugs. Already there are those who want to put a question mark over our 1916 commemorations and even St. Patrick's Day celebrations. It is clear that we must not let this minority run Dublin city. The best answer to thuggery is to continue with our plans and ensure full participation in the national events planned for the coming weeks in the heart of Dublin city.

Photo of Michael MulcahyMichael Mulcahy (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I also agree with those speakers who stated Saturday was a sad day for Ireland and for Dublin. The experience of watching that was not new to me because in June 2001, when I was elected Lord Mayor, on the way to the Mansion House I was assaulted by a similar crowd protesting against water charges. On that day, despite the fact that it had been widely circulated that there would be a protest march that night, there were only one or two gardaí present. That raises the issue of the policy of the Garda on these events. To put it bluntly, I disagree with one of the phrases the Minister used in his speech, most of which I agree with. I do not believe the Garda were firm enough on Saturday but I pay tribute to all of the brave gardaí, male and female, who stood in that line and who obeyed instructions while missiles were being thrown at them and they were being abused and assaulted in the most cowardly and despicable fashion. My abiding image, and that of many Members of this House and members of the public, is of ordinary members of the Garda Síochána, not in protective clothing, standing there in line, being assaulted and being helpless in that assault. I found that galling. I found it unacceptable. Most right-thinking people in Ireland found that equally galling and unacceptable.

I pay tribute to the Garda for some of its operational decisions. The decision, as the Minister stated, to stop the parade at Parnell Square was correct. To allow them to protest outside Leinster House was also a correct decision, but to lose control of O'Connell Street amounts to a failure and we must face up to this.

The Minister has stated the Garda response was measured, proportionate and effective. I respectfully disagree. It was not proportionate and it certainly was not effective. It is unacceptable that any group such as this can take control of O'Connell Street, even for a short period. While I also thank the Minister, Deputy McDowell, for coming into the House and accepting full political responsibility, it is unacceptable that we, the democratically elected representatives, and the people should lose control of their premier street, even for a short time. In his policy instructions to the Garda in future, there should be a clear instruction that people should be able to go about their lawful business on O'Connell Street at all times. A number of Opposition Members have made totally contradictory statements in that regard. On the one hand, Deputy Gregory stated this group should not have paraded down O'Connell Street but, on the other, that by-laws should not be in place regarding marches down the street, which is a totally contradictory position. Deputy Cuffe advanced a complete apologia for civil disobedience. He listed a series of items which amount to a justification for civil disobedience-violence, although I accept he condemned the violence.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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The Deputy was not listening.

Photo of Michael MulcahyMichael Mulcahy (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The tenor of his speech was such that it could easily have been misinterpreted by people who wanted to misinterpret it.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Like the Deputy.

Photo of Michael MulcahyMichael Mulcahy (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Saturday's events were most serious and it would be regrettable if they were to happen again. However, they require further examination. I am not sure whether Fine Gael's proposal is a good one. I do not approve of its proposed list of members of such a group, although I would not oppose referral of this matter to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which should inquire into whether proper operational plans were in place, whether the riot police should have intervened sooner and the other questions that remain unanswered. This is not first time this has happened. There was a riot in the 1990s during a football match between the Republic of Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road. Riots will always happen. We will never have seen the last one.

It is a question of policy on the extent to which the Garda should intervene. Despite the best efforts of brave gardaí, they soft pedalled a little too much on Saturday. For the forces of law and order in the State to cede control, even for a short period, on O'Connell Street is unacceptable to most Members. It is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive and informative contribution, including the annex he circulated on the security procedures. I also thank him for taking political responsibility but a serious question must be asked regarding what will be our policy on such events in future.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Having listened to Deputy Mulcahy's contribution, I can understand why there are so few bodies behind the Minister on the Fianna Fáil benches. Clearly, this would have not happened on the watch of a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Do not mind that.

7:00 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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On reading the preliminary Garda report, it is clear the Garda did not have a clue about what was going to happen and it was totally in the dark. The only person who had prior knowledge was the Taoiseach on Friday night but, according to the report, he did not transmit the information to the Garda. More gardaí will be bussed to Shannon Airport to protect President George Bush when his aeroplane lands, even though he will not set foot on Irish soil, than were on duty on O'Connell Street last Saturday.

We must ask ourselves a number of questions. Whose reckless actions endangered the lives of the citizens of Dublin and gardaí; caused millions of euro worth of damage to property in central Dublin; damaged the reputation of the capital city in the eyes of the world; and damaged the peace process?

The television shots of Dublin burning, rampaging youths with scarves hiding their faces, and stones, bricks, poles and even wheelbarrows flying through the air in the direction of gardaí tell a tale of organised confrontation, violence and mayhem. Thugs of a Nationalist hue, sundry hangers-on and local opportunists brought terror and destruction to the heart of Dublin on Saturday. Dubliners witnessed something they had scarcely witnessed even at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland. As the bulletins were broadcast throughout the afternoon and ambulance and police sirens screamed ferrying the injured to hospital and those arrested to custody, a nation was shocked and stunned that this sustained violence could erupt without warning and, like a tsunami, engulf the city for more than three hours. If it were not for the courage of the thin blue line of gardaí who stood their ground, though completely taken by surprise and shell shocked by the ferocity and viciousness of the attackers, more damage to life and limb would have ensued. I was present for a good part of the afternoon and witnessed how ill-equipped and ill-prepared they were for what happened.

The dust has settled and the endless road works continue into yet another year on O'Connell Street but now that the Garda report has been submitted on the proximate causes of the riotous behaviour and the Garda state of preparedness, it is time to identify the mistakes made and learn lessons for the future. A decision was made to route the first Northern Unionist march to be held in Dublin from Parnell Square to Leinster House via O'Connell Street. The marchers assembled at the Garden of Remembrance, a potent symbol of republicanism, even more so in this the 90th anniversary of 1916. The offices of Sinn Féin are located on the other side of the square, while the offices of Republican Sinn Féin are a couple of hundred yards down Parnell Street. Passing the statue of Parnell at the junction of Parnell Square and O'Connell Street, the Love Ulster marchers would have been able to read the bold legend, "No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation", on the Parnell monument. They would then have been on the main thoroughfare of the city, on which is located the iconic republican symbol of 1916 — the GPO.

Careful organisers would have seen the potential for conflict and confrontation in the route chosen but nobody apparently did. Careful organisers would have seen the potential for missiles in the stones, bricks and poles of the construction site that littered virtually the entirety of O'Connell Street. Blaming Dublin City Council for not securing these works is wide of the mark because they could not be secured. Careful organisers would have gratefully accepted the marchers' stated willingness to take whatever safe marching route to Leinster House was presented to them by their hosts. Alas, there were no careful organisers of the march.

Careful managers of the march would have seen the potential for confrontation; obtained extensive intelligence of subversive plans for disruption; ensured their police forces were sufficient for every threat to life, limb and property; ensured their forces were furnished with the necessary equipment to control rioting thugs and to protect themselves against injury; ensured traders were warned of the threat of impending danger to their customers and property; and taken all steps to ensure their marching guests were not exposed to danger.

Was the political planning poor? Was the route wrong? Was the intelligence non-existent? Was the Garda unprepared? It is difficult to avoid an affirmative answer to all these key questions. The Garda report results from an internal Garda examination. It can only ask the questions and seek the answers arising from Garda management's perception of its role, actions and effectiveness. It cannot cover all the ground or ask all the questions. It certainly cannot give all the answers.

In Northern Ireland, arising from the crises at Drumcree and the Garvaghy Road, the Parades Commission was established to make recommendations and to take measures to avoid occasions of confrontation, provocation and conflict. None of the wisdom accumulated by the Parades Commission has found its way to the corridors of power in Leinster House or Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

The ball is firmly in the Minister's court; the buck stops with him. He has a duty to ensure the appropriate inquisitorial structures are put in place. It seems that an independent inquiry, a call echoed by the Garda Representative Association, into all the circumstances surrounding the ill-fated march in my constituency in Dublin is the only way to get to the heart of the matter and to ensure the hard lessons will be learned.