FOUR MEN are to appear in court later this month following a protest in Dublin city centre on Saturday where former British prime minister Tony Blair held a public book signing, the first since his memoirs were released this week.
The four, two aged in their late teens and two aged in their 30s, were taken to Store Street Garda station where they were charged with public order offences and later released. They are due to appear in court on September 30th.
Mr Blair arrived at the Eason store on O’Connell Street shortly after 10.30am. Shoes, eggs and bottles were thrown toward him as he arrived. Several hundred anti-war protesters staged a demonstration opposite the shop amid tight Garda security.
The pavement area outside Eason and neighbouring stores was sealed off, with a line of gardaí and two sets of temporary railings separating the shop from the demonstrators, who gathered in the traffic island in the middle of OConnell Street.
A bottle and some smaller missiles were thrown when his motorcade of three silver BMWs and a blacked-out minivan pulled up to the front of the book store and then left. A number of minor scuffles took place throughout the protest, and the four men were arrested by gardaí as a result.
The northbound section of O’Connell Street was closed, and Luas services on Middle Abbey Street were halted. The Eason outlet was closed to the general public while the signing took place, and security shutters were pulled down on the Middle Abbey Street side.
However, those attending the book signing outnumbered the protesters by at least three to one. A long queue stretched down Middle Abbey Street past the entrance to Arnotts as people waited for hours to meet Mr Blair.
Sitting on the third floor of the store, Mr Blair met more than 200 people in person and signed at least an additional 100 copies for people queuing outside.
Customers who attended the signing were given wristbands and had to pass through airport-like security checking all bags, including purses and phones, into a holding point.
Kate O’Sullivan (24) from Cork attempted to make a citizens arrest on Mr Blair after buying the book. She said she approached Mr Blair saying “I’m here to make a citizen’s arrest for war crimes that you’ve committed.
“Immediately five security people grabbed me, dragging me off. They brought me down the stairwell around the corner held me there for about 20 minutes . . . and told me I’m allowed to go with a caution.”
Another protester, Niall Farrell, of the Galway Alliance Against War queued and succeeded in getting past the initial security check. He was then recognised and ejected from the premises.
“They obviously recognised that I’m a peace activist, and peace activists have to be observed. That’s the world that we live in, peace activists are a danger, mass murderers can be driven around with armed guards,” he said.
Mr Blair left the store at about 12.40pm with hundreds of people still queuing along Abbey Street for the signing.
On Friday night Mr Blair defended his decision to go to war in Iraq in an interview on the Late Late Show. He said it was the “single most difficult decision” he took while in office.
He said Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons “against his own people, thousands of them had died, he used them in the Iran/ Iraq war”. He said Saddam had “retained the desire” to “reconstitute” his weapons programme.
Asked about the threat from Iran, Mr Blair said: “It would be a disaster if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. I think you’ve got to try sanctions, you’ve got to try diplomacy, but I think you can’t rule anything out including military action if they carry on developing nuclear weapons capabilities.”
The former British prime minister’s book A Journey has become one of the fastest-selling autobiographies on record. Eason said there has been unprecedented demand for the book and it has gone straight to the number one spot in their stores around the State.
Managing director Conor Whelan said he was delighted the event went “so smoothly” and felt Mr Blair had received a “very warm welcome” from customers.