Disruption outside the Irish parliament on Wednesday was an “attack on democracy” in Ireland, politicians have said.
Thirteen people have been charged by Irish police after demonstrations, which saw entrances to Leinster House blocked and included a mock gallows featuring ministers and opposition TDs.
Calls have been made to review security measures around the site of the Oireachtas, on Kildare Street, in Dublin city centre.
Elected representatives have also warned of the threat of a “Jo Cox” moment, referring to the MP murdered in 2016.
Sean O Fearghail, the speaker of the Irish parliament’s lower house, the Dail, said the protests were “particularly vile and vicious”.
Addressing assembled parliamentarians in the Dail chamber, he said: “We talk about attacks on politicians but 1,200 people work here. 220 of us are politicians. The people that suffered abuse yesterday came from all walks of life, civil servants, political staff, political advisers, journalists, the whole spectrum and what happened was particularly vile and vicious.
“The people who are involved in that offer nothing of any benefit to any cause they might espouse, however worthwhile or questionable, more likely to be questionable, the cause that they serve.”
He said the Oireachtas has engaged with the commissioner of the Irish police service An Garda Siochana over the matter and added that a taskforce on safe participation in public life was established in May 2022, chaired by former Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.
“They’re meeting today and they will come up with a set of, I hope, implementable proposals by the end of December. We can never see again what happened outside yesterday because it is an attack on democracy and if unchallenged and allowed to proceed, it will bring us to a point that we saw in the United States in the aftermath of the last presidential election. So it can’t be allowed to continue.”
Senator Jerry Buttimer, Cathaoirleach of the Irish parliament’s upper house, the Seanad, said he could not get back into Leinster House due to protesters after attending the funeral of a former colleague.
He said “there could have been a Jo Cox moment” and called for a policing plan around the vicinity of Leinster House.
Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae said his 20-year-old US intern, who was on the first day of her programme, was “shoved, pushed”.
He called it “disgraceful behaviour” and said it was “not right”.
He said: “This is the funny thing: everybody is saying, ‘What exactly were they protesting about?’ Because all I saw were people jumping up and down, using horrible, bad language that should not be used in any form of protest and there was no coherent message from them.
“It was like a gathering of people who just wanted to insult.
“Everybody is scratching their heads and saying, ‘What exactly is their message?’ Whatever they did want to do, they didn’t exactly do it very effectively because government don’t know what they wanted… because they actually didn’t make a call.”
Mr Buttimer said there should be a “sterile area” around the streets where members and staff of the Oireachtas can move in and out, but also allow for peaceful protest.
“My concern is (about) members of staff, those who work in the parliamentary community of Leinster House, and members,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.
“Yesterday, members (and) staff were prevented from doing their work and from carrying out their duties. We live in a republic and the ballot box is our answer to those people yesterday – you can give people a mandate or not.”
He added: “People come out every day protesting in a very fair and a very personal way and make their points clearly, but yesterday was an attack on all of our democracy.
“It wasn’t about a political party or a government, it was about the institutions of the state.
“I’ve been (at Leinster House for) 16 years, I’ve never witnessed the behaviour and the thuggery of yesterday and thankfully, because of the proactivity of members of An Garda Siochana, there was nobody seriously injured or hurt or even killed.”
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said Wednesday’s demonstration has “absolutely no place in a democratic society”.
Ms McEntee told RTE radio: “What became very clear throughout the day is that those people who came to Leinster House, be it the front or the back, were not there to engage, they were not there to make a point or to get across a message or to try and engage in a democratic way.
“They were there simply to be aggressive, to intimidate not just ourselves as elected representatives, not just the gardai but also the people who are working in Leinster House.
“People turned up with gallows with pictures and effigies and really, this has absolutely no place in a democratic society. What I would say is, I think, the gardai dealt with a very difficult situation, we know at the end of the day there were 13 arrests, that’s obviously now before the courts.”
She said those involved do not represent a majority of people.
Ms McEntee added: “It cannot be the situation that something like this is allowed to happen, or that it is allowed to continue in this way.”
She said she was not worried for her own safety as she was aware gardai had a plan in place.
“If more needs to be done in putting new plans, new measures in place then that will be done – but for the most part, these types of protests are peaceful,” she added.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said protests were welcome at Leinster House but described Wednesday’s scenes as “thuggish behaviour”.
He said he wanted to thank Oireachtas staff and An Garda Siochana for their response.
“They went above and beyond, let’s be straight about it.”
Mr O’Brien added: “To have a situation whereby people are hindered from going into the Houses of the Oireachtas, where people are going about their parliamentary business, is an attack on democracy.”
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