By Padraic Halpin, Graham Fahy and Conor Humphries
DUBLIN (Reuters) -Calm was restored to the streets of central Dublin on Friday night amid a heavy police presence after 34 people were arrested following rioting the previous night that was triggered by the stabbing of three young children in the street.
Police were on alert for further violence after rioters smashed shop windows; set fire to police cars, buses and a tram; and clashed with officers in and around the main thoroughfare of O’Connell Street in violence rarely seen in the Irish capital.
Shoppers and tourists returned on Black Friday morning, passing officers guarding looted stores as burnt out vehicles were removed. Police chased a few people from the street on Friday evening and made some arrests but the city was quiet.
“Those involved brought shame on Dublin, brought shame on Ireland and brought shame on their families and themselves,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told a news conference early on Friday of the violence overnight.
A 5-year-old girl remained in a critical condition on Friday following emergency treatment for serious injuries sustained in the stabbing, which happened near a school and beside O’Connell Street.
Police, who say they have not ruled out any motive including whether it was terror-related, have not commented on the nationality of a man detained in connection with the stabbings but there was immediate speculation online that he was foreign.
The man is in his late 40s and being treated for serious injuries. Police said they were not looking for any other suspect.
Police blamed far-right agitators for starting the violence after a small group of anti-immigrant protesters arrived at the scene of the stabbing and clashed with police.
Varadkar said his government would take immediate steps to tighten anti-hate legislation he said was unfit for the social media age. Ministers also plan to fast-track laws to allow officers to use body-worn cameras.
“As a country we need to reclaim Ireland. We need to take it away from the cowerers who hide behind masks and try to terrify us with their violence,” Varadkar said in an emotional statement.
‘ELEMENT OF RADICALISATION’
The attack was condemned across all political parties, including the main opposition Sinn Fein, whose leader called for the justice minister and police chief to resign over what she called an “unacceptable failure” to keep people safe.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said she would not quit and Police Commissioner Drew Harris earlier defended the force’s response, saying the scenes in the city were unprecedented.
“I think that we’ve seen an element of radicalisation. We have seen a group of people who take literally a thimble full of facts and make a bathtub of hateful assumptions and then conduct themselves in a way which is riotous and disruptive to our society,” Harris told a news conference.
It took officers several hours to regain control after a group of local youths joined the protesters, some of whom were shouting “get them out”, with one carrying a sign saying “Irish Lives Matter”. The crowd grew to about 200 to 300 people.
British minister Michael Gove, in Dublin for a meeting with Varadkar, told reporters the violence had been shocking. “It’s a mark of Ireland that this sort of thing is so rare,” he said.
People were urged to stay away from large parts of the city during the height of the violence. Harris said 13 shops were damaged or looted, 11 police cars damaged and destroyed along with three buses and a tram. One officer was seriously injured.
“Right now we are feeling worried,” said Hassan Alia, a Foot Locker security guard standing outside the shuttered store early on Friday who was also working the previous night before it was looted.
Members of the public intervened at an early stage of the knife attack, including an immigrant Brazilian Deliveroo driver who told local media that he knocked the assailant to the ground by striking him with his helmet.
A 17-year-old French student working in Dublin told France’s BFM TV that he grabbed the attacker’s knife as the group pushed him to the ground.
Police said a female creche worker in her 30s was also in a serious condition. The two other children, a 5-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, suffered less serious injuries.
A fundraiser on gofundme.com for the Brazilian motorbike driver raised over 250,000 euros on Friday, while a separate online funding drive raised more than 160,000 euros for a creche worker and children who were attacked.
There are no far-right parties elected to Ireland’s parliament, but small anti-immigrant protests have grown in the last year, particularly at migrant accommodation centres in the capital. The government is reviewing security around parliament after a recent protest trapped lawmakers inside.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Graham Fahy and Conor Humphries; Additional reporting by Will Russell and Geert De Clercq in Pais; Editing by Kate Holton, William Maclean, Kirsten Donovan)