Gardaí have urged members of the public not to attend an anti-lockdown protest planned for Cork city centre on Saturday.
They are also warning attendees that criminal proceedings or fines could arise for those who flout the current Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.
A policing plan, which includes public order units, is in place for the event due to take place on the main thoroughfare of Patrick Street in the afternoon.
National garda resources have been made available for the rally in addition to local and divisional gardaí.
It is understood the violence that occurred at a similar event in Dublin last weekend has informed the preparation for the policing plan for the protest planned for this weekend.
An Garda Síochána spokesman said that public order capability will be available as part of a graduated response.
“An Garda Síochána has been consistent in our graduated policing response to supporting Public Health Regulations and guidelines in line with our tradition of policing by consent,” he said.
“This has seen garda members engage, explain, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce.
“Where Gardaífind potential breaches of the public health regulations a file is prepared for the DPP in each case or a fixed payment notice is issued where appropriate.”
The garda spokesman warned potential attendees there was no excuse for members of the public to breach the 5km regulations to attend a rally of any type.
“The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No.10) Regulations 2020, as amended, are currently in force. Regulation 8 places restrictions on individuals organising relevant events outdoors. This is a penal regulation.
“Regulation 4 places restrictions on travel outside the home except for a reasonable excuse. This is a penal regulation.
“Attending an event organised in breach of these regulations is not a reasonable excuse to travel outside your home.”
The garda spokesman said they have no role in permitting or authorising protest marches or gatherings, as there is no permit/authorisation required for such events.
However, where gardaí can “identify potential organisers of such events” they will “engage and advise those organisers as to the current Public Health Regulations, their responsibilities and potential consequences”.
The spokesman said a decision as to whether a protest takes place is a matter for the organisers, in full knowledge of the current public health regulations.
“The Covid-19 pandemic remains a public health crisis and An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to all citizens to comply with public health regulations and guidelines, in particular essential journeys, in order to continue to save lives.”
Meanwhile, Lord Mayor of Cork Joe Kavanagh has called on organisers to cancel the event.
“I’m not a medical expert and don’t claim to be, but we’re all guided by medical experts who actually know what they are talking about,” he said.
“What they have quite clearly stated is that any large gathering should be avoided and tomorrow qualifies as a large gathering, so I’m calling on whoever is organising this gathering to please cancel it.
“This has been classed as a potential superspreader event and has the potential to create a spike in the number of cases.”
The Cork Business Association (CBA) has also urged the public not to attend the rally.
President of the CBA Eoin O’Sullivan said that although people are frustrated with the restrictions, people need to stay the course for the good of society.
“We are very fearful that a large group of people gathering together could unravel all the good work that has been done. So we would ask people to continue by working together and getting the city reopened as soon as possible,” he said.
“We are hoping to get the city open in May or June for hospitality. We can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Events like the anti-lockdown protest can put jobs at risk. People have made so many sacrifices. We really ask people who are looking to join the protest to stay at home to stop the spread of Covid-19.”
Mr O’Sullivan has called on his members to be extra vigilant between noon and 6pm on Saturday arising out of the protest.
The CBA is liaising with gardaí in relation to security concerns arising out of the protest.
‘I am scared’
Meanwhile, the head of the Cork Penny Dinners soup kitchen, Caitríona Twomey, has said that her “heart is breaking” at the idea of a rally serving as a superspreader event.
“I am scared because there will be a protest in our city on Saturday and people I love and care about may be put at risk unnecessarily.
“I’m asking those who are going to protest to think of those who are struggling, don’t take our lives in your hands, err on the side of caution and please let us all be safe.
“Is it worth losing someone? Let’s stick together and ride it through as best we can. If you really want to do something then think about us and stay home.”
The chair of the Cork City Joint Policing Committee, Cllr Colm Kelleher, has also implored members of the public not to attend the event.
“All the hard work by society locally we would have a massive fear that that would be thrown out the window. Whilst they have a constitutional right to protest they don’t have a right to endanger the lives of people,” the Fianna Fáil councillor said.
“We see how transmissible this new variant is so this protest is a real concern. Gatherings are prohibited under the public health guidelines. In my opinion this rally is a recipe for disaster.”
Cllr Kelleher says gardaí are monitoring the situation.
“I appreciate people are sick of restrictions. The ironic thing is that what they are protesting is a lockdown and they would be added to another lockdown by increasing numbers of Covid,” he said.
‘Family friendly event’
However, a former councillor who is promoting the anti-lockdown rally said supporters of the protest feel tarnished by suggestions that their event will in any way resemble the violent scenes in Dublin last Saturday.
Diarmaid O’Cadhla, secretary of the People’s Convention, said that they are expecting a “family friendly event” of some magnitude tomorrow.
He said it will not be marred by ugly scenes, which left three gardaí injured in a anti-lockdown protest in Dublin last week.
Mr O’Cadla, whose grandchildren will attend the Cork protest, said that they were not in any way affiliated with the Dublin event. He condemned all acts of violence.
“We take exception to some of the comments being made by other public representatives. People have implied that we are somehow affiliated with a far right clique or group.
“This group (the People’s Convention) has been involved over the past 12 or 13 years of its existence in the Cork area in countless public events including many protests. Never once was there a suggestion of trouble. And if there was we would be horrified. There will be no abuse of anybody tolerated.”
When asked if he understood the concerns of those who said he was flouting restrictions and compromising public health by promoting the rally, Mr O’Cadla said the right to protest was enshrined in the constitution.
He criticised the “hooliganism” of protestors who attacked gardaí in Dublin and said he hoped those individuals were found and prosecuted.
Mr O’Cadla said when the event was planned initially they anticipated a small attendance.
“When we announced this event three or four weeks ago we thought we would have 30 or 40 people. Now I think it is going to be an event of some consequence in terms of numbers.”