Tuesday 16 January 2018

Children could have died, says senior officer on duty at shame England game

An English fan is arrested by Gardai during Republic of Ireland v England, International friendly Lansdowne Road, Dublin
An English fan is arrested by Gardai during Republic of Ireland v England, International friendly Lansdowne Road, Dublin
England fans 1995
Trouble erupted in the stands the last time England played in Dublin
Former garda Martin Donnellan

A former Assistant Garda Commissioner has revealed his strongest memory of the infamous Lansdowne Road riot was helping to assist panicked children and their terrified dads escape the "epicentre of violence".

Martin Donnellan (67), who was on duty in the stadium on the night of the infamous abandoned Ireland-England game, spoke to the Herald ahead of Sunday's game at the Aviva Stadium.

As a detective inspector, Mr Donnellan was one of the most senior officers on duty and has revealed that he was personally involved in arresting at least three English hooligans.

READ MORE: 'The game had not been on very long when I saw a piece of wood landing on the pitch'

"It was a frightening night, especially when you consider that there were children in the stand where all the trouble broke out. There was a real danger that someone could have been killed and it is very fortunate that this did not happen," Mr Donnellan said.

The highly-respected retired officer believes there a number of crucial factors which led to the riot breaking out and then escalating.

"It was a big mistake for the authorities here not to take up an offer from English police to have 'crowd spotters' in with the English fans, as these police spotters would have known and been able to identify known troublemakers.

READ MORE: At the port, a bloodied fan raised his fist and joined the mob

"The gardai had names of known troublemakers from English police, but no photos of them. So it was virtually impossible to identify these individuals before the game, despite a number of garda checkpoints being deployed to the border area in the days before the match.

"These are guys that came to Dublin with malice - and gardai were not prepared for the threat they carried. Some of these individuals were banned from matches in the UK," he explained.

In fact, Mr Donnellan believes that around 50pc more gardai were needed on duty at the stadium that night. There were 90 officers there, with only 55 of them on crowd control duties.

"There were clearly not enough resources and we had only half the officers we needed. What happened in Lansdowne Road that night was a huge wake-up call for gardai," he said.

As evidence of this, Mr Donnellan pointed to the fact that the public order units which will be on standby at Sunday's game will have had a far higher level of training than the officers who had to deal with the riot in February, 1995.

There were also no public order units on duty inside the stadium and it took these officers around 20 minutes to get from the O' Connell Street area to Lansdowne Road after the riot began.

It has regularly been reported that there was an air of huge tension in Dublin before the game, but Mr Donnellan pointed out that the first indication that he got there was going to be violence was around half an hour before kick-off.

"When some of the fans arrived into the vicinity, they broke into groups and started rushing turnstiles. A small number of arrests were made at that stage and extra gardai were called in," he said.

"However, it was difficult to make arrests and prevent these fans from going into the ground when they all had tickets. It was a logistical nightmare, the fact that they were all put in the upper deck of the west stand.

"It is well documented what happened when the trouble started and from where I was standing I could see it all unfold very clearly, with seats being ripped up and so on.

"The main priority was to get the Irish people moved away. And this included children who were with their dads, who were absolutely terrified as they were caught up there.

"I assisted in getting them out of the epicentre of the violence and it was a dangerous situation, which was frightening for them to be in.


"The next phase happened when the public order units moved in after the English troublemakers were confined to an area.

"At this point, I helped with the actual arrest of three or four people and we let things cool down before a lot of them were escorted back to the port in Dun Laoghaire to get out," he said.

Mr Donnellan added that he "generally agreed" with a report by the late Chief Justice Thomas Finlay, which concluded the violence was caused solely by English fans without any provocation and that garda radio communication and resources were inadequate.

See Sport72: CENTRE

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