Letter from Dublin: I Walked Into a Riot!

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Devastation in Dublin’s city center

By Dr Dhanpaul Narine

The remote control lay idly on the bed. We were about to leave the room when we decided to put on the television. A man was reporting something about a demonstration. We had little time for it. We were from New York. Little did we know that one of us would be interviewed by that same man an hour later.

It was so peaceful when we landed in beautiful Dublin. And then something unexpected happened. It was like a scene from a movie. Two doors away from us, in Parnell Street East, a drama was played out that would send shockwaves and horror in the city, and in all of Ireland. A man went berserk and stabbed three children, including a five-year-old. He attacked two other persons who tried to stop him. This was extraordinary and devastating for Dublin. It is a city that prides itself on being quiet, peaceful and tolerant. The Gardai swarmed the area and business came to a halt. One might think that the perpetrator would be arrested, the injured would be treated, and life would go on as normal. But the incident was a tinderbox that exploded in fury. In the space of a few minutes, cars were smashed and set on fire, trams were destroyed, and the streets were engulfed in thick smoke as rioters unleashed their anger.

Devastation in Dublin’s city center

Our hotel stood in the middle of the mayhem. But it took a while for us to run for our lives. There was a jovial holiday atmosphere in the hotel that saw reunions, first time introductions, fun and merriment. Someone burst the bubble of comfort by reporting that hundreds of Gardai were outside and smoke was in the air. We heard the sirens and decided to look. The police stood in columns outside O’Connell Street as the screaming, shouting, and smoke filled the air. Dublin had never seen anything like it and the police appeared to be uncertain as to how they should act. Do they use force against the protestors or should they use restraint? The police advanced slowly and cautiously as the fires and smoke took over the streets.

Some guests tried to leave the hotel but were stopped by the security. We gathered at the first floor and waited. Then the unthinkable happened. The rioters began to break into the hotel. The wood pillars fell, accompanied by broken glass. The alarm went off and so did panic and pandemonium. The natural reaction was to run upstairs but the alarm meant everyone should be down. I found myself screaming for people to walk rather than take the elevator. Hundreds of us were now in the foyer, waiting. The sounds of breaking glass had stopped. Maybe, the rioters were turned away by the police. Panic turned to relief. It was momentary. Management said one of the rioters was in the building. It began to sink in that this was a desperate situation. The faces of the guests told of worry, uncertainty, and helplessness. But worse of all it told of people that were trapped and at the mercy of the streets.

A Garda (police) with the author. The Garda worked hard to restore order.

What does one do when one is trapped? The heart beats faster, you become scared and you look for any egress. We inched toward the doorway when the police arrived. They told us to run, but to stay in groups. In a matter of seconds, we were running into the night and the cold. We ran several blocks up the street, without any specific place in mind. All manner of persons were in the street, the middle-aged panting for breath, young people trying to get there faster, and a man with a thin vest and no shoes that limped along with his wife.

We found a group of police officers and stood next to them. We could see thick smoke and the fires and hear the shouts and screams of those in the city center. The television cameras arrived and interviewed some of us. We knew there was a stabbing, a crime was committed, but we were uncertain as to why it led to this level of outrage. One man gave us a clue. He approached the police angrily, “You let them in,” he said. “They stab our children and take our jobs and get all them benefits. I am without a job, who is looking out for me?” By this time, we had broken up into smaller groups. The Abbey Church opened its doors and we took refuge there with hot teas. A discussion began with the locals, and visitors, as to what led to the riots in Dublin, where anti-immigrant hate simmered, but was now on public display. The extremist, it was said, had exploited the outrage, both in the streets and on social media.

It became clear that the riots in Dublin have to be seen in a wider political context. Ireland has a population of over five million persons. It has arguably one of the most liberal immigration policies in the European Union. In 2022, it admitted more than 120,000 immigrants, many of them from the Ukraine. This has put a strain on social services and has worsened an already housing shortage. There is the feeling that refugees are given preferential treatment in housing. In addition, each refugee qualifies for around 240 Euros a week, which is high by Irish standards. Locals say that most of this money is sent abroad, when it could be spent in Ireland and help to boost the local economy.

There was an anti-immigrant feeling in Ireland, even before the latest stabbing incident. The fact that the attacker was reportedly of Algerian descent had not helped matters. But immigrants point out that they are a crucial cog in the economics of Ireland. They do jobs that no one else wants. They are to be found in restaurants, hospitals, stores, supermarkets, and airports, among others. The riots have led to fear in the immigrant community.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is the son of an Indian doctor. He is familiar with the immigrant experience. He promised to tackle extremism. He said that Ireland was a country of immigrants and that, “our public service wouldn’t operate without migration.” Meanwhile, the local cabbie in Dublin says that this government is unpopular. The elections are next year. He will vote for the opposition.

In the aftermath of the riots, the media seemed to have forgotten that it was a Brazilian immigrant who jumped off his bike and helped to restrain the attacker. This is the message that ought to be in the media as Dublin repairs its image as one of the fairest cities in Europe.

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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.