Looking back at Dublin's Love Ulster Riots

published 17 Aug 2013

On February 25th, 2006, a group calling itself Love Ulster, led by Loyalist activist Willie Frazer held a march in Dublin to commemorate protestant victims of Northern Ireland's Troubles. I went along to have a look. I did not expect to see much more than the amusing and unusual sight of Orange Men marching through Dublin. However, things turned out quite differently. I found myself caught up in a major riot that lasted for several hours and saw the security services losing control of the city.

In the immediate aftermath of the riot, there was a great rush of commentary in the Irish media which mostly described the riot as a dastardly plot by organised republicans (mostly Republican Sinn Féin. This did not concur, at all, with what I had witnessed, so, the next day, I sat down to describe what I had seen and published it on Ireland's Indymedia site. I have just republished that article, along with some of the context around it to my archive. The article garnered a fair amount of attention and was republished, in abridged form, in Village Magazine. I was also interviewed by various media outlets about the events.

So, how does that article look now with the benefit of hindsight?

Firstly, the main point of contention at the time concerned the extent to which the riots were orchestrated by organised Republicans. History has come down on my side on this score:

Twenty six people, mostly young men and teenagers, were convicted in January 2009 for their part in the disturbances and given sentences of up to five years. Two were described as “alcoholics”. One of them and a teenage boy were “homeless”. Three were not Irish – one Georgian, a Romanian and a Moldovan were convicted of looting shops on O’Connell Street. Two had travelled from Offaly, one from Galway and one from Donegal for the riot. All the rest came from inner city Dublin or its working class suburban estates. (Sunday Tribune, 11 January 2009)."

This profile of those who were convicted is in line with my observations - a relatively spontaneous riot by disaffected urban poor. Furthermore, no evidence whatsoever has been uncovered since which connects the riot to any Republican group. On the other hand, I subsequently became aware that there was some organised element to the riot but the source was football supporters 'ultras' rather than political Republicans. Several people told me about threads on supporters' boards in which a plan was formulated to meet up in order to oppose the march in the Parnell Mooney pub, on Parnell St., near the spot where the riot broke out and I have heard several eye-witness accounts of how this group were instrumental in seeding the riot. Nevertheless, despite this minor correction, it seems clear that my depiction of the riot and its causes was greatly more accurate than the 'republican plot' version.

There were a couple of other predictions in my article that can be assessed at this stage. I expressed doubt as to whether the Love Ulster loyalists would ever attempt such a march again, despite their stated intentions to do so. This turned out to be prescient - they cancelled their plans for a follow up march in October 2007. My final prediction, however, turned out to be completely wrong - I ended the article by saying "on Saturday February 25th 2006, we saw the first harvest of our Celtic Tiger and chances are that it won’t be the last." Whereas, in fact, it proved to be a singular event, there have been no further incidents of large-scale violence in the Irish Republic in the 7 and a half years since. The Celtic Tiger economy came to a spectacular crash in 2008 without any hint of urban unrest - a situation that continues to this day. I was able to see, to some extent, the impending economic crash, but the lack of popular reaction to it was something of a surprise to me.

Finally, an assessment of the article as a whole - I think it stands up fairly well. My one major criticism is that it is a little breathless and tends to repeat, too many times, the 'disenfranchised' nature of the rioters. However, in my defence, I wrote it on the night of the riot itself and I was still full of adrenalin. What's more, I had a significant eye-injury which I received on the way home from the riot - an inner-city teenage boy, who appeared to be high on cocaine, randomly smashed me in the face with the end of a can of beer as I passed the point where the riot had started - so the story was written with the image of disaffected, poverty stricken youth very fresh in my mind!

An unanticipated consequence of me publishing this article was that Vincent Browne, the editor of Village Magazine, offered me space to write a weekly column on media analysis. I accepted and continued to work for him for the next two years. From next week on, I'm going to start republishing those articles with retrospective critical analyses of what I got right and what I got wrong.