26 February 2006

Love and war

Sunday Life

Sinead McCavana
26 February 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe 'Love Ulster' rally in Dublin descended in total anarchy yesterday as republican rioters went on the rampage in protest at the loyalist parade.

The city's prestigious O'Connell Street - teeming with Saturday shoppers - was plunged into chaos as gardai fought running battles with protestors.

The sheer scale of the riot - which lasted for more than two hours - shocked television viewers around the globe.

Gardai in riot gear were drafted in as youths threw literally everything they could get their hands on at police lines.

The anarchy was fuelled by a ready-made arsenal of weapons in the form of building materials from construction sites lining the thoroughfare - the widest street in the Republic.

Everything from bricks, steel fences, pieces of machinery and fireworks were hurled at members of the gardai.

Dozens of empty soft-drink bottles - looted from a nearby pub - were also hurled at cops and journalists covering the mayhem.

Earlier, the 'Love Ulster' parade - which was due to start at 12.30pm - looked like it would pass off peacefully.

Around 50 Republican Sinn Fein protestors holding placards had gathered, but just 30 minutes later, thousands had gathered and completely blocked the road. From that moment on, the future of the loyalist march was in doubt.

Lagan Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson - one of the rally organisers - told marchers: "It's a sad day when, in the 21st century, republicans can't stand to have a unionist about the place."

After gardai told organisers they could not guarantee the parade's safety, bandsmen played the Sash before re-boarding their buses with the Union Flag.

As they climbed onto the coaches, protestors chanted, "Cheerio, cheerio" and "Where's your march now, Jeffrey?"

Said one onlooker: "What did they expect?

"They think they can come here and march past the spot where loyalists killed dozens of Irish people?

"Emotions are running very high. Would republicans get to march up the Shankill? No, I don't think so."

However, even after republican protesters left the area, the riot on O'Connell Street still gathered pace.

Shopkeepers had - perhaps wisely - shut up for the day.

But that didn't stop a few looters chancing their arm and smashing windows in two shoe shops - but gardai pinned them against a wall before they could make good their escape.

One middle-aged Dublin woman said: "What was (Republic justice minister) Michael McDowell thinking, having this parade on a building site?

"Sure, everything they need for a riot is sitting right here.

"Look at the state of our beautiful new (O'Connell) street.

"How far is this going to set us all back just when we thought we were making progress."

She added: "People are going to watch this on TV and think we're all bigots down here.

"No one expected this.

"But feelings still run very deep.

"I think it's still too sensitive to have a parade like this.

"If the march just involved the victims' relatives, that would be different. But it's not.

"It's the bandsmen and the Union Jack that infuriate people."

Following behind gardai - holding their shields above their heads to protect themselves - people were stepping over blood-splattered pavements and bricks.

Another local man was clearly stunned at the trail of devastation.

He said: "Thugs. That's all they are.

"This is disgraceful - absolutely disgusting. Look at the Jim Larkin statue and all the madness that's going on at his feet - he's holding his hands up as if to say, 'Why?'"

Riot police kept forcing the rioters back in strategically planned charges until the mob had been pushed off O'Connell Street.

Although the trouble eased, a tense stand off continued on O'Connell Bridge.

Late last night, gardai reported the city-centre to be quiet.

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