An anti-lockdown protester today shot a firework at a police officer’s face in Dublin, prompting Gardaí to charge at demonstrators headed for St Stephen’s Green.
Protesters were met by a heavy police presence before they could make it to the city centre park, which police had closed to the public before the planned demo at 2pm.
Some 23 people have been arrested following the clashes today, as officials confirm police are still carting away demonstrators who ‘engaged in attacks’ on officers.
Three officers were attacked during the demonstrations, one of whom was taken to hospital, RTE reports.
Footage showed the protesters massing on Grafton Street leading to the green before a man walked towards the police line aiming a stick of fireworks which blew into the face of an officer.
Gardaí reacted furiously to the projectile assault, charging with their batons and striking out as people fell to the ground while fireworks exploded around them.
Cans and traffic cones were hurled at officers in the chaos and women were heard shrieking in terror as police forced demonstrators back down the road.
A man (white shirt with arms aloft) is seen approaching the police line with a smouldering firework stick which soon explodes, firing a projectile into an officer’s face on Grafton Street. Chaos then ensues as the officers break ranks to charge down the demonstrators
Police drag a protester across the street next to St Stephen’s Green in the city centre on Saturday afternoon
Gardaí were seen hitting protesters with batons and using snarling German Shepherd dogs to help clear the streets after a firework was shot at one of their officer’s on Saturday afternoon
Police officers pin a demonstrator to the ground as they disperse protesters in central Dublin today
Gardaí were seen lashing out with batons and using snarling German Shepherd dogs to help clear the streets.
Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin slammed the ‘thuggish behaviour’ and attacks on Irish police, and said he ‘utterly condemns’ the protests.
Mr Martin said demonstrators posed ‘an unacceptable risk to both the public and gardai’.
In a statement, Mr Martin said: ‘The large gathering, in the face of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, showed a complete lack of respect to the people who have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic.
‘Nor can we tolerate the thuggish behaviour or attacks on gardai, who have the public’s utmost respect as they continue to protect and serve our society in difficult circumstances.
‘There can be no justification for the march or the violence that unfolded, and I pay tribute to members of An Garda Siochana who moved quickly to make arrests and restore order.’
Police officers were seen clashing with demonstrators. Some protestors held up signs reading: ‘Vaccine of death’ and ‘they are coming to your door’
Three officers were attacked during the demonstrations (the protest, pictured), one of whom was taken to hospital
Gardaí were seen clashing with protesters during the anti-Lockdown protest on Grafton Street in Dublin city centre on Saturday
Police were seen with protestors in Dublin today. One demonstrator is seen on the ground
Gardaí Commissioner Drew Harris said that up to 23 people were arrested following today’s protests in Dublin.
He said that he expects more arrests to be made.
‘Very regrettably, people arrived intent on violence.
‘They engaged in attacks on members of An Garda Siochana including the throwing of a firework type device. There will be a full investigation into this,’ Mr Harris said.
‘There were some 23 arrests that we have made already and those arrests are continuing. This operation is not over as we pursue individuals who engage in protest and illegal activity today.
Irish deputy premier Leo Varadkar said he was ‘horrified’ to see protesters clash with police (some pictured) on the streets of Dublin today
A demonstrator remonstrates with officers in the Irish capital on Saturday
Meanwhile, premier Micheal Martin said he ‘utterly condemns’ the protests (pictured)
‘They had no reasonable grounds for being there in the first place so we will pursue particularly those who formed a very hard core to deal with.
‘You don’t carry a firework to a protest with any other purpose than to engage in violent conduct. We will follow through with an investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.’
Mr Harris said they were aware that momentum had been gathering on social media in the lead-up to Saturday’s protest.
Mr Harris also said that garda officers were ‘very lucky’ they were not seriously injured when a firework was fired directly at them.
‘It was directed at that individual and so we are fortunate they didn’t suffer a serious injury, it was only the individual’s quick thinking that saved him,’ Mr Harris said.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (pictured) said that up to 23 people were arrested following today’s protests in Dublin
‘We will follow through with a serious crime investigation into that incident.’
Mr Harris said the demonstrators was a collaboration of groups made up of anti-lockdown protesters, anti-vaccine and anti-facemasks.
‘This was groups working in concert together, as a mob,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Irish deputy premier Leo Varadkar said he was ‘horrified’ to see protesters clash with police on the streets of Dublin today.
He said: ‘This behaviour on Grafton Street by a selfish few undermines sacrifices that millions have made in the last 12 months.’
Before the violence erupted the demonstrators had walked down Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, to the General Post Office (GPO) where a recording of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was played.
Protesters holding a Freedom sign during an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin city centre
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond called the organisers ‘self-styled patriots’ who preyed upon the fears of the most vulnerable in society with conspiracy theories.
‘From the outset, this protest was ill-advised, fuelled by conspiracy theories and championed by individuals seeking to manipulate the genuine fears of many vulnerable individuals,’ he told The Independent.
‘Some of the eye witness footage circulating is extremely disturbing and every public representative should condemn these awful scenes.
‘The footage appears to show a lit firework being thrown at members of the gardai by one protester, which is truly shameful.
‘These self-styled patriots are a clear threat to the well-being of our nation. All these Covid protestors have done is bring shame to our capital’s streets.’
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris also condemned the chaos.
‘Pure thuggery on the streets of Dublin today,’ the minister tweeted.
‘It’s not a ‘protest’. It’s an attack on our national effort. The abuse directed at the gardaí is sickening and shameful. Disgraceful. Thoughts with the gardaí and their families.’
Officers pin a young man to the ground, left, and lead another away from the protests, right
Gardai wielding batons march towards anti-lockdown protesters in the Irish capital today
An officer shouts at demonstrators as they clash in central Dublin today
A demonstrator covered in dirt and liquid is held by an officer in central Dublin today
Gardaí earlier said they would be operating a ‘policing plan’ in the city centre, with the Luas (tram) line closed into St Stephen’s Green and several other diversions in place.
In a tweet, the police force said: ‘A number of traffic diversions and other policing plans are currently in place. Those who are conducting their essential journeys may meet obstructions on their journey and will need to avail of diversions.’
Ireland has been living under draconian lockdown restrictions throughout the winter.
The Level 5 rules currently in force mean you cannot leave your home unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for doing so and must stay within 3 miles of your home.
Footage shows some protesters bunching up at the side of the street as the police move in to disperse the crowd
An officer is taunted by angry protesters as he holds his baton in the air
Protesters and police face each other on Grafton Street, Dublin, on Saturday afternoon
You cannot have guests at your house and can only meet another household for exercise outdoors.
The country has recorded an average of 27 coronavirus deaths and 693 new cases over the last seven days.
Leo Varadkar said last week that the next interval at which the government would consider easing restrictions would not be until April 5.
As of February 23, 373,280 doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered in Ireland, a country of almost 5 million people.
This includes 238,841 first doses and 134,439 second doses.