IRA supporters attack police in Dublin

Associated Press
Saturday February 25, 2006

Several hundred IRA supporters attacked police on Dublin's central boulevard and near the parliament building today to prevent an unprecedented Protestant parade.

In riotous scenes rarely seen in the Republic of Ireland, protesters hurled bottles, bricks and fireworks at police as they tried to clear the hostile crowd from O'Connell Street.

The Garda said 14 people - six officers, seven protesters and a journalist - were hospitalised, mostly with head wounds. More than a dozen other people suffered less serious injuries. The police advised shoppers and tourists to avoid the entire city centre.

Officers in full riot gear arrested at least 37 protesters as a police surveillance plane circled overhead.

The protesters, mostly young men covering their faces with scarves, chanted pro-IRA slogans as they waged running battles with riot police and other officers on horseback for more than an hour, forcing shops on Ireland's most famous street to close. Afterward, O'Connell Street was littered with broken paving stones and glass from shattered shop windows.

Later, more scuffles broke out on Kildare Street near Leinster House and the country's national history and art museums. At least three cars were set on fire, one was flipped over, and the windows of several others were smashed as police struggled to contain the rioters.

The mayhem forced Protestant hardliners from the "Love Ulster" campaign to abandon their plan to parade through Dublin, which the Irish government had supported in a gesture of reconciliation. It would have been the first parade in Dublin by pro-British Protestants since Ireland's partition in 1921.

The prime minister, Bertie Ahern, said Protestant unionists should have enjoyed freedom to demonstrate their views.

"There is absolutely no excuse for the disgraceful scenes in Dublin today," Ahern said. "It is the essence of Irish democracy and republicanism that people are allowed to express their views freely and in a peaceful manner."

Leaders of the aborted parade praised police efforts to protect them, but nonetheless handed a letter of protest to the justice minister, Michael McDowell, during a meeting inside Leinster House.

Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP said most of the rioters had travelled to Dublin from Catholic areas of Northern Ireland.

"We have received a warm welcome from ordinary Dubliners," Donaldson said. "But it's clear these republicans have come from north of the border and other areas intent only on causing trouble." Sinn Fein sought to distance itself from the violence.

Sean Crowe, a Sinn Fein MP, said the Protestant marchers "came to Dublin today to be provocative and get a reaction. Sinn Fein urged people not to be provoked and to stay away, and the vast majority of Dubliners ... did just that."

But the SDLP said republican rioters had reinforced Protestants' hostility to the idea of a politically united Ireland.