Tickets made fans targets

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The Independent Online
Garda chiefs and Irish football authorities were last night under intense pressure to explain their failure to stop known troublemakers securing admission to the Lansdowne Road stadium and to enforce segregation of Irish and English fans before Wednesday's riot.

Three separate investigations were last night under way into how a series of critical lapses occurred. They were being conducted by a former Irish chief justice for the Irish cabinet, by an assistant garda commissioner for the gardai themselves, and by the two football associations.

They will focus first on how known troublemakers with established records of violence at England games overseas managed to obtain tickets supplied to the Football Association in London from its official England travel club.

The inquiries will also ask how detailed intelligence reports on the travel plans of these troublemakers did not prompt closer attention from those in charge of security in the ground. Football authorities will have to explain how tickets for four rows at the front of the English section in the west-stand upper tier, from among 900 returned unsold this week from 2,700 allocated to the FA visitors, were sold to Irish fans and led to them being targets for attacks by English supporters.

"We were lucky not to have been chucked over the edge," one caller complained on Irish radio.

Gardai will have to explain how only a small number of officers were on hand to deal with the initial violence. In a statement, the Garda Commissioner, Patrick Culligan, said more than 1,000 gardai and stewards had been present "in and around the ground", 400 of whom were gardai. Critics said that the vast majority were stewards with no training as "bouncers" and that most gardai were too far from the scene to intervene effectively when trouble broke out.

A small number of uniformed officers on the upper tier of the west stand tried to stop English fans destroying 20 rows of seats and hurling the debris on to fans of both nationalities below. But they failed to enforce order until riot police reached the scene more than 10 minutes after the violence began.

The garda statement confirmed that English police experts on soccer hooligans were also present in the ground, and noted that some of the troublemakers named in the British warning had been detained on charges of breaching the peace in the city before the match.

The Commissioner blamed the FA for the mixing of fans on Wednesday. "We were assured by people that the sale of tickets would be done on a selective basis and that the two sections of the west stand would be reserved for English fans."

Football authorities in Dublin appeared to blame gardai for a breakdown of communication. Bernard O'Byrne, the security adviser to the Football Association of Ireland, conceded that they had been informed via gardai that at least 30 known troublemakers had booked tickets to Dublin, but later denied being aware that these included known right-wing extremist supporters of the National Front and the British National Party.

Some of the most decisive security interventions, seen by millions of television viewers, were carried out by plainclothes officers armed with batons. Garda sources confirmed to the Independent that these were ordinary plainclothes officers from inner-city Dublin stations.

Opinion was divided yesterday on whether gardai had over-reacted in their baton charges. Some callers to Irish radio stations complained that as many as seven officers had been involved in hitting a single fan with truncheons.

Others felt they had only matched the violence shown to them.