Fri, Sep 24, 2021
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Northside journalist witnesses London mayhem

AS RIOTS rocked London last week Irish communities across the city were left terrified by events and fearing for their safety.
Thousands of young Irish people have emigrated to London since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, finding homes and jobs in areas like Clapham, Lewisham and Hackney.Last week these adopted new homes were turned into battlefields as rioters wreaked havoc running pitched battles with overwhelmed police and looting local businesses.The news broke late on Saturday that rioting had broken out in Tottenham, just a short trip from my East London home. Within 48 hours it had spread across the city and to other parts of England.These events were like nothing I have ever witnessed in Ireland, north or south. At the height of the violence buildings were burning to the ground and there was no way to stop it happening.Cameras were snatched from the hands of press photographers, TV vans had their windows smashed and a number of reporters were mugged and even hospitalised.Fire brigades were attacked if they attempted to stop fires spreading from shops to flats and nearby buildings. For two days the police were completely on the back foot and gangs took control of the streets in a number of parts of the city.Irish authorities must have uncomfortably looked at these events and the speed with which they unfolded, hoping they would not spread across the sea.Since moving to the UK I have reported from the frontline of several riots, including the recent anti-cuts demonstrations that saw huge parts of central London smashed up by anarchists.The violence that came to the streets of North London was completely different, made up of young people desperate to get their hands on anything they could steal and with no regard for their own communities. They had no overt political motivation.Charity shops were smashed up, local-run convenience stores looted and people’s cars indiscriminately set on fire.The death of Mark Duggan, shot by police, had sparked the initial protests that instigated events but cynical opportunism soon became the main motivation.Muggings, looting and arson were carried out in broad daylight with a minority of London youths holding the city to ransom.In East London police sirens and passing helicopters were a constant presence for most of the week, although luckily the riots never made it to my door.On Tuesday, the police seemed to have lost confidence in themselves and their ability to control the city. My office in central London, which had survived the recent student and anti-cuts riots, was shut on Tuesday with all staff sent home early. The situation was the same across London with young Irish workers reporting being sent home from work for their own safety and some even forced to seek alternative accommodation, fearing arsonists could target their homes.By early Wednesday the police had the situation in hand, but many parts of the city now resembled something from the blitz.It is a great credit to the Irish communities in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester that they took no part in opportunistic looting. Instead many Irish people reacted positively, joining clean-up operations across the city. Luckily London’s thriving GAA community survived unharmed, with only minor disruption to training schedules.

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