YESTERDAY’S AGGRESSIVE PROTESTS outside Leinster House led to 13 arrests and the effective lockdown of the Oireachtas campus for almost two hours.
Apart from TDs and Senators, over 1,000 people work in the extended complex of Leinster House and Government Buildings. These include political staff, civil servants, technical grades, ushers, catering staff, journalists, Gardaí and members of the Defence Forces.
Our parliament is a very busy workplace and in a functioning government, hundreds of people visit the site each day. These include visiting politicians from other jurisdictions, diplomatic delegations, school groups, non-governmental organisations and most importantly, citizens engaged in advocacy for local and national issues. It is the beating heart of Irish democracy.
Yesterday, that engine of Irish democracy was temporarily interrupted. Internally, the work of parliament did not stop – but the ability of citizens to access their public representatives was disrupted.
I was in Leinster House yesterday from 1pm until 9pm. I witnessed at first hand the protests on Kildare Street, Molesworth Street and on Merrion Street. The crowd of about 200 was concentrated initially at the Kildare Street entrance. They were loud, aggressive and provocative. One of my colleagues was subjected to racist slurs as they arrived to work.
This is not a new phenomenon. On 11 July – just before the Summer recess – I introduced a Disability Bill into the Seanad. There was a smaller – but similar – crowd of far-right protesters gathered at the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House. Members of my family, including my adult son – who is partially sighted and a wheelchair user – attended the debate on the Disability Bill. Afterwards, when they exited the grounds in a wheelchair accessible van, my family – including my 19-year-old daughter – were accosted by the protesters.
According to An Garda Síochána, in 2022 the emerging far right in Ireland carried out 307 separate anti-immigration protests countrywide. This trend is consistent in 2023. I have attended a number of security and intelligence briefings on right-wing extremist groups hosted by a number of our EU partners with extensive experience of the phenomenon of the far right. This is a growing phenomenon in Ireland and we must confront the reality here that the far right has established itself firmly here.
In 2022, researchers at........