THE Republic of Ireland’s Minister for Justice has said gardaí will do their utmost to protect anyone from Northern Ireland who takes part in a Union Flag protest in Dublin this Saturday.
Alan Shatter said that if individuals want to march on the streets they have a democratic right and an entitlement to do so.
“I know that the gardaí will undertake any preparation necessary to ensure that if there is an event in Dublin the maximum possible is done to ensure the safety of any individuals who march,” he said yesterday.
“I would certainly hope other individuals would not opportunistically use this event to create problems on our streets.”
There has been widespread media speculation that dissident republicans may attack the Union Flag protestors should they travel to Dublin on Saturday.
Yesterday, the News Letter reported how Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins had appealed to organiser Willie Frazer to “rethink” his plans in light of the major public disorder which followed another rally in Dublin in 2006, also organised by the well-known victims campaigner. Some 41 people were arrested and several gardai were injured at the time following significant damage and looting in the city centre after republicans attacked the parade.
Mr Frazer claimed this week that he had contacted garda headquarters several times to arrange this Saturday’s Dublin protest. He said that none of his calls had yet been returned. Mr Frazer is planning a 30-minute protest for three busloads of people outside the Irish parliament on Saturday – but no parade – and intends to hand in a letter of protest to the Taoiseach.
A garda spokesman said yesterday: “An Garda Síochána facilitates peaceful protests and in the course of any one year we would facilitate in excess of 100 protests outside Daíl Eireann.
“We fully recognise people’s democratic right to peacefully protest and will facilitate this. We also recognise the rights of others to go about their lawful business and the day-to-day needs of the business community and local residents. We would urge any organisations who intend to protest to notify An Garda Síochána and other local authorities.”
Asked for clarification about what would happen on Saturday if formal arrangements had not been agreed, a garda spokesman quoted from the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 Section 21. The legislation says that the garda may erect barriers to “regulate” access to an event if a large number of people are likely to attend and if there is a risk to public order and safety.
The legislation did not expressly say that persons could be banned from such an event but did say they could be diverted to another entrance and that alcohol could be confiscated.
Mr Frazer said yesterday: “We will be handing a letter in to the Taoiseach but it will not mention taking the tricolour down,” he said, describing earlier stated intentions to do so as “tongue in cheek”.
“What the letter will say is to ask for the Taoiseach to follow through on previous discussions about Irish state collusion and the IRA and the Kingsmills massacre.”
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and UUP MLA Danny Kennedy took part in the 2006 rally – however, no unionist politicians are taking part in Saturday’s event.