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What we know about Dublin's riots — and what they indicate about European politics

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Irish officials say the country hasn't seen the kind of violence and rioting that overtook Dublin on Thursday night in decades. Rioters torched several city buses and police vehicles and damaged more than a dozen storefronts in the city. Ireland's police chief blamed a, quote, "lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology" for the destruction and chaos. It all began with a knife attack in Dublin on Thursday, which left several people wounded, including three young children. Police arrested a suspect, but then hours later, the incident led to protests that quickly spiraled out of control. Willem Marx is in central Dublin this evening and joins us now. Hey there.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: Can you give us a sense of what exactly happened last night and what the city looks like right now?

MARX: Well, the scenes last night were, for many people in Dublin, just unbelievable, with fires raging on several vehicles, including a city tram, even firefighters being attacked by large crowds of rioters. Hundreds of police responded. And, in fact, they say that last night was Ireland's largest-ever deployment of riot police at a single moment. People here seem very surprised by these events, particularly the intensity, but also the scale of the violence. It wasn't just isolated to a couple of streets, but it spread out right across the city center.

Authorities say the cost of the damage could run into tens of millions of dollars. There have been 32 arrests so far, there may be more. Tonight, here in the city center, there's a very heavy police presence, particularly around government buildings near where I am. Workers have been told to head home early before it got too dark. And the head of the police has said that light touch police tactics that have been used in the past to avoid accusations of heavy-handedness, they'll no longer form part of the response if there is further violence this evening. Police here in Ireland, they've borrowed water cannons from their counterparts in Northern Ireland.

DETROW: What have police said so far about who was behind this violence?

MARX: Senior officials have said that far-right groups were responsible. Some have called the country's far-right movements an emerging threat. Others have turned this an attack on Ireland's democracy. It appears that following that knife attack outside a local school here, members of far-right groups started messaging each other on encrypted apps like WhatsApp or Telegram or Signal, seemingly deciding they'd start a protest at the scene of the knife attack. And police estimate that at one point there were around 500 people involved in the rioting.

DETROW: Given these likely motives, what has the political response been so far?

MARX: Well, there was a Cabinet meeting here in Dublin this afternoon led by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. He says the police have responded appropriately, but he says they may need updated powers for online activity that incites violence. He said the rioters had brought shame on their families and on Ireland itself, that Dublin was once more safe, though. His deputy has said that Ireland's inclusive and tolerant society was something that must be protected. The country's justice minister said that criticism of the country's police was unwarranted, and that those seeking to sow division should desist, and that the country's political parties should remain united. But one of those political parties, the largest political opposition party here, Sinn Fein, has demanded that both the police chief and that justice minister should resign.

DETROW: I mean, this is yet another story about an emboldened far-right in Europe. Does what happened in Ireland indicate a broader trend here?

MARX: Well, this is unusual in Ireland, although some far-right groups have in recent months been kind of engaged in public protests, including outside the Parliament, near where I am now, with opposition to migration a factor in their protests. And nobody would deny that the European continent is going through a very complicated period when it comes to international migration. And the response has been really felt politically right across the continent.

In Germany, France, Italy, Spain, you've seen far-right parties finding a small but significant voice in their country's parliament at times over the past decade and more. In the Netherlands just this week, a far right anti-immigrant party was the most successful in the country's parliamentary elections, and so will likely have the first shot at forming a new government if they can find other political parties willing to work with them in the coalition. But it's really - it's worth ending on this. There are no such far-right populist parties with an anti-immigration platform here in Ireland. And the country's politics are complicated, for sure. But every single one of the political leaders here have come out publicly to criticize last night's events.

DETROW: OK. That's Willem Marx reporting from Dublin. Thank you so much.

MARX: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Willem Marx