Friday, November 24, 2023

Dublin Chaos Last Night: Firsthand Account

Between 1 and 2pm local time, young school children were stabbed in Parnell square by a single assailant.  We were less than a mile away at John Mulligan's pub at the time; learned about the stabbing on the news during the afternoon.

Not yet aware of events, we went by Parnell Square about 90 minutes later.  A few dozen men aged 20-40 were cursing at the police (gardai).  Presumably they were locals given that several were yelling in Gaelic.

About 3 blocks south of Parnell Square is the OConnell bridge, the one nearest Trinity College, where at 8pm two buses and a police car were set on fire.  We were on Fleet Street, which is about 2 blocks west.  We heard helicopters, which suggested trouble although many tourists and locals were still conducting business as usual.  As we walked down Fleet Street, in the direction of the bridge, a couple of white teen males pushed passed us wearing black face masks and wearing at least 2 empty backpacks each.

I thought about telling the teens that face masks are for criminals.  Undoubtedly they were criminals about to commence looting, which was occurring about that time at about five merchants near the bridge.  The criminals did not look like poor people and certainly were not emerging from a poor neighborhood.

The criminals likely numbered several dozen, which is a small percentage of the number of people present.  The bridge is in the heart of the tourist area and near Trinity College (itself a tourist attraction).  Of course, there are many pubs, some catering to tourists and others to locals.  A fraction of those who had drunk by 8pm were interested spectators.

We saw merchants calmly removing merchandise from their shelves, as if they were instructed to do so or were following a precautionary drill.  Trinity College was being evacuated, said a Trinity College staffer as we briskly walked past.  Students were flowing out of the campus.  I asked a few where they were evacuating to and they said “home, away from here.”  Several minutes later we would learn that our hotel lobby, about 3/4 mile west, was locked as a precaution.

A block west of Trinity College we saw many police.  They seemed organized, but quite nervous.

Note that the fires and looting are unprecedented in recent Dublin history yet the merchants and criminals seem prepared.  This fact pattern suggests to me that maybe law enforcement had intelligence about organized retail crime and in prior weeks had warned merchants about that capability.

The chaos has been attributed to “misinformation” (about the knife assailant's nationality) and “right-wing” political sentiments.  Regardless of any advance warning, this looks like organized crime is a big factor in addition to, or rather than, something political.

We saw a bus burning and smelled smoke throughout the area within a quarter mile of Trinity College.  This was a bit confusing to at least one of our kids, who was worried about “bombing,” because we had just returned from Northern Ireland where we learned about sectarian violence that had ended 20 years ago (Dublin is not part of Northern Ireland, which is thriving in terms of tourism, construction, and more).

The next morning I heard an elected official say that she was eager for the criminals to serve time in jail — not a response I would expect in Chicago.  (Although Chicago as part of USA does provide greater free speech rights—see below).  Reportedly the attacker was detained by unarmed civilians (update: one was a food delivery man who used his motorcycle helmet as a weapon).  Police are typically unarmed, too.

PS.  In Ireland and Northern Ireland it is illegal for “any person in a public place to use or engage in any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intent to provoke a breach of the peace or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace may be occasioned.” Perhaps that explains why the pro-Palestine protest we saw in Derry was rated G?