How the Dublin riots began: From flares and fireworks at a crime scene to hundreds-strong mob

Irish capital rocked by violence, arson and looting after heated demonstration in response to school stabbing evolves into clashes with police

Joe Sommerlad,Tara Cobham
Saturday 25 November 2023 12:25 GMT
Violence erupts in Dublin after children seriously injured in suspected city centre stabbing

Violent riots that broke out across Dublin city centre on Thursday evening flared after a knife attack on children and their care assistant outside a school earlier in the day.

Three young children and an adult woman and man were all injured in the stabbings outside the Irish-medium primary school Gaelscoil Cholaiste Mhuire on Parnell Square East at approximately 1.30pm, an incident that immediately made headlines.

Garda (Irish police) said on Saturday that they are continuing to investigate the knife attack, which left a five-year-old girl in a critical condition and still fighting for her life in hospital on Saturday.

A bus on fire on O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre after violent scenes unfolded following a knife attack on Parnell Square East on Thursday (PA Wire)

A second girl, aged 6, continues to receive medical treatment for less serious injuries in CHI Crumlin. A boy, aged 5, was discharged from CHI Crumlin yesterday evening.

The children’s care assistant, a woman in her 30s who was said by the authorities to have used her body to protect the children, remains in a serious condition in the Mater Hospital. A man in his 50s also remains in a serious condition in a hospital in the Dublin region.

The knife attack outside a school

Witness Siobhan Kearney described what she saw at the scene on Parnell Square East as “absolutely bedlam”, telling RTE she watched people disarm a man whom she said had a knife.

Police officers walk near the crime scene of the school stabbings in Dublin (Getty Images)

“I looked across the road and I see the man and the stabbing motion with a load of children so I flew across the road,” she said.

“The man was after stabbing two children as far as I could make out, and we got the children up to the left with the women that were there, and the teachers I presume.

People were trying to attack the man so me and an American lady, we formed a ring around the man, and then about three minutes later the ambulance came for the children and then another ambulance and fire officers came for the man on the ground.”

Irish police maintained a large presence in central Dublin on Friday following a night of protests and violence on Thursday (AP)

Politicians and police have hailed as heroes members of the public who intervened to halt the attacker.

Caio Benicio, a Brazil-born Deliveroo driver, said that he leapt from his moped and knocked the knifeman to the ground with his helmet as part of the public effort to stop him.

Police have since said they believe the incident itself was a “standalone” attack and is not terror-related. A man in his 50s has been arrested and named a “person of interest” in the investigation and the scene remains cordoned off as of Friday morning.

Caio Benicio, a Deliveroo driver, at the scene in Dublin city centre after he witnessed the incident on Parnell Square East (PA)

How the subsequent riots unfolded

As news of the attack spread, far-right agigators began to whip up a frenzy online, with speculation on the knifeman’s nationality and unfounded links to illegal immigration among the false rumours rapidly gaining momentum.

A demonstration formed at the edge of the police cordon over the course of Thursday afternoon and escalated as the evening progressed.

A crowd of between 100 and 200 people, some of whom wore scarves and hoodies to cover their faces, confronted gardai verbally before violent clashes erupted with riot police. The mob’s number would ultimately grow to around 500, according to later estimates.

Tricolours and an “Irish lives matter” sign were held by some who were present.

A man works to remove a broken window from a sport shop that was damaged in the riots (REUTERS)

Fireworks and flares were soon thrown at police and, just before 7pm, a Garda car was seen alight near the scene.

Two more police cars sustained fire damage during the episode and another eight were extensively vandalised by the rioters, some of whose actions was captured on mobile phone footage that was swiftly spread across social media.

Some 13 shops were significantly damaged or subjected to looting, as people were seen picking up furniture from nearby shops and smashing it to the ground, some of whom appeared to be minors.

Several small pushes were made by riot police down O’Connell Street and away from the scene, which appeared to temporarily scatter those gathered, only for them to reform and confront police again.

Police officers patrol the city for a second night to counter violence and unrest sparked by the school stabbings (Getty Images)

Some onlookers sheltered in a hotel lobby until the garda effort had moved down towards O’Connell Bridge, where a car and a bus were also set alight.

An empty Luas tram that had been left at a stop nearby had its windows smashed and was set on fire. Dublin Fire Brigade tackled the flames that had engulfed the Luas, as well as nearby buses, once they reached the scene.

Rioters were also seen on nearby Henry Street, a major shopping thoroughfare, looting a Footlocker shoe store.

People threw bottles at gardai on the famous street, while others carried metal bars and smashed shop windows.

Smoke from bus and car fires filled the air while a Garda helicopter monitored the situation overhead.

Ireland's Justice Minister Helen McEntee speaking to the media outside Government Buildings on Friday (PA)

The aftermath

As of Friday morning, 32 of the 34 people arrested have been charged over Thursday night’s violence, which required 400 police officers and a further 250 public order officers to contain, according to the authorities.

The affair has been condemned by the Irish justice minister Helen McEntee and the Garda commissioner Drew Harris.

Ms McEntee pledged that the scenes of disorder “will not be tolerated” and said: “A thuggish and manipulative element must not be allowed use an appalling tragedy to wreak havoc.”

She told colleagues that officers are trawling 6,000 hours of CCTV footage and vowed that further arrests would follow the 34 already made.

Fireworks were thrown at police officers on Thursday (REUTERS)

She also insisted that the police force has all the resources necessary to keep people in Dublin safe over the weekend, including securing the use of two water cannons from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Mr Harris described the clashes with police officers and the criminal damage as “disgraceful” and blamed a “complete lunatic faction driven by far-right ideology” for Thursday’s chaos.

He said one Garda officer received a serious injury, with “numerous other members injured” as missiles were thrown at them.

He also urged the public to “act responsibly and not to listen to the misinformation and rumour that is circulating on social media”.

A burned-out bus is removed from O’Connell Street in Dublin, in the aftermath of violent scenes in the city centre on Thursday (PA Wire)

Among those condemning the participants was Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said on Friday that the knife attack and the violence that followed had brought “shame on Ireland”.

He added that damage to public infrastructure in Dublin from the disorder could cost tens of millions of euros to repair.

After local residents were advised to work from home on Friday, a small number of arrests were made in the evening as gardai mounted a significant security operation around the O’Connell Street thoroughfare to avoid a repeat of the violent scenes from the night before.

Amid criticism of the Garda response to the riots, Government ministers met and heard that legislation to facilitate the use of body-worn cameras by police officers will be fast-tracked.

Ms McEntee rejected a call from Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald for her and the Garda Commissioner to resign.

Mrs McDonald said there had been “an unacceptable, unprecedented collapse in policing” and that a problem leading to Thursday’s riot had been “building for months”.

Former UFC champion Conor McGregor said he “does not condone” the riots in Dublin but insisted that a “change” must occur, after tweeting that Ireland is “at war” following the sentencing of Jozef Puska, a 33-year-old Slovak who was jailed for life over the murder of 23-year-old Irish woman Ashling Murphy.

A fundraiser on for the Brazilian motorbike driver raised over 250,000 euros on Friday, while a separate online funding drive raised more than 160,000 euros for a creche worker and children who were attacked.

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