Violent clashes broke out in central Dublin on Thursday evening, with vehicles torched and riot police attacked.
It came after knife attack earlier in the day which left a five-year-old girl was seriously injured, and a woman and two other young children hospitalised.
Irish police said the girl was receiving emergency medical treatment in a Dublin hospital following the attack outside a school. Soon after that announcement, at least 100 people took to the streets, some armed with metal bars and covering their faces.
Police said over 400 officers including many in riot gear, were deployed in Dublin city centre to contain the unrest, which they said was “caused by a small group of thugs.” A police cordon was also set up around the Irish Parliament building, Leinster House, and officers from the Mounted Support Unit were in nearby Grafton Street.
There were clashes with riot police as some demonstrators let off flares and fireworks, while others grabbed chairs and stools outside bars and restaurants.
A number of police vehicles and a tram were damaged during the disorder, while a bus and car were also set on fire on the city’s O’Connell Bridge.
Shop windows were routinely smashed and a Foot Locker store was looted. All public transport in the city — trams and buses — was suspended and many firms have urged their staff to work from home on Friday.
“We have a complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology, and also then this disruptive tendency engaged in serious violence,” said Ireland’s top police officer, Drew Harris.
Police and politicians called for calm and warned against misinformation over the attack earlier in the day.
“The scenes we are witnessing this evening in our city centre cannot and will not be tolerated,” said Justice Minister Helen McEntee. “A thuggish and manipulative element must not be allowed to use an appalling tragedy to wreak havoc.”
Earlier, police said a man in his fifties, who also was seriously injured, is a “person of interest” in their investigation. No other details about his identity were revealed.
At a press briefing in the evening, Harris was asked about a potential terrorist link, and he didn’t rule it out.
“I have never ruled out any possible motive for this attack ... all lines of inquiry are open to determine the motive for this attack,” he said.
That appeared to be a slight change in stance from earlier, when Superintendent Liam Geraghty said police were keeping an open mind in terms of the investigation but were “satisfied there is no terrorist link.”
A woman in her thirties also suffered serious injuries during the knife attack shortly after 1.30pm. The two other children, a five-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, sustained less serious injured and the boy was discharged from a hospital.
Geraghty said at a media briefing that preliminary indications are that a man attacked a number of people on Parnell Square East.
He said that police believe that it was “a standalone incident, not necessarily connected to any wider issues that are ongoing in the country or in the city, and we need to identify the exact reasons for that happening.”
Geraghty confirmed earlier witness reports that a knife was used in the attack, but he couldn’t provide more details on the nature of the injuries. He also confirmed that witnesses sought to disarm the man as soon as they saw what was going on.
“My understanding is members of the public did intervene at a very, very early stage and we would applaud those members of the public for getting involved in such a traumatic and potentially dangerous situation for themselves,” Geraghty said.