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out of control Anti-lockdown gathering was a 'riot, not a protest', says Varadkar

Mr Varadkar said that it was "lucky" no one was seriously injured or killed in the clashes.

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has said the violent anti-lockdown gathering in Dublin yesterday was a "riot", not a protest.

Mr Varadkar added that it was "lucky" that no one was seriously injured or killed in the incident.

"It wasn't a protest, it was a riot, and there's no excuse for using that kind of violence to advance a political cause no matter what that cause is. I think we’re just lucky that somebody didn’t get seriously injured or killed," he said.

More than 20 people were arrested and 13 have been charged after crowds protesting Level 5 restrictions gathered in Dublin city centre yesterday.

Three gardai were injured in the clashes, with one garda requiring hospital treatment.

"I have to say, I think the gardaí did an amazing job. They took control of the situation really quickly, got control the situation very quickly thereafter, and the fact that we saw people being brought to court that very night was a really good example of very good and very swift policing," Mr Varadkar told Newstalk's On the Record.

Mr Varadkar added that the current Covid restrictions don't allow for large gatherings, particularly protests of this kind.

"I'm a great believer in free speech and nobody ever wants to ban protests, but gatherings of this nature are not allowed in Level 5 lockdown and while socially distanced protests are possible, this certainly wasn't."

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Helen McEntee has condemned the anti-lockdown protest as an “insult” to the national effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

The Minister commended the “professionalism” of gardaí for their handling of the demonstration.

“This is a very serious incident. You had quite a large group of people who set out to cause disruption and to cause harm,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.

“The vast majority of people that were there were not there for peaceful protest. They were there to cause disruption and harm.

“The gardaí were being verbally abused, things thrown at them, fireworks directed at them.

“What they have used is the banner of Covid measures and people’s frustration – and we’re all frustrated, we’re a year now living with Covid – but people used that yesterday as an excuse for bad behaviour,” she continued.

Minister McEntee said that gardaí had anticipated a large gathering and established procedures to combat the protest, with 125 officers responding at the scene.

She stated: “The Commissioner and his team are constantly monitoring online activity as this is where a lot of these protests and events start and they gather momentum.

“I do have to commend the professionalism and the way in which the Gardaí on duty responded with great control and with great discipline in what was a very challenging situation.

“The gardaí responded in the best way possible, dispersed the group and as the day went on this was brought under control.”

“I think a lot of people are very frustrated given the last year that we’ve had where people have stayed at home and put their livelihoods on hold.

“You have to remember that these types of gatherings are against Covid regulations, they are against the law.

In a statement, Taoiseach Michael Martin condemned the protests: “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.”

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