The National Party has described the media coverage of the violent attack on their Ard Fheis as “dishonest and misleading”, saying that a “violent attack” on their Ard Fheis could have led to people being killed.
The party leader, Justin Barrett, was speaking after a man, Daniel Comerford, was charged with possession of an offensive weapon and attempted grievous bodily harm, in connection with the attack on the Ard Fheis in Fermanagh.
Mr Barrett said that a minibus rented in Dublin carrying between 30 and 40 hard-left activists was driven to the Lough Erne Hotel .
Gript contacted the bus company who confirmed they had driven the group to the hotel, but declined to give details about who had hired the bus. Gript understands that in addition to the bus, there were also a number of individual vehicles involved in ferrying the attackers to Fermanagh.
The assailants, who were armed with multiple weapons including at least one hammer, stormed into the hotel and made their way towards the conference room.
A number of party members who were outside the conference room were first to be attacked, according to sources.
Five people – all National Party conference attendees – were taken to hospital. One young man suffered severe lacerations to his hand and had to undergo surgery the next morning in order to repair three severed tendons.
Mr Barrett said that the injured man had been told that doctors were not sure if he would fully recover.
Another young man also suffered a “deep cut” to the back of his neck from the broken glass.
One man attending the conference suffered a blow to the head with a hammer and Mr Barrett says that outside the hotel a car was driven at a man who was thrown up on the bonnet but did not sustain serious injuries.
He said that the attack was an act of “political violence” and he believes there was “intention” to cause serious injury and that “people could have been killed”.
The National Party leader said that although assumptions have been made about possible antifa involvement, the PSNI “seem to be of the view” that the attack was carried out by “dissident republicans”.
Gript understands that at least one member of the paramilitary organisation, the INLA, was amongst the group who wore masks and scarves to conceal their identities as they tried to break into the conference room on Sunday.
The attackers were “held off” from entering the main conference area by National Party members who managed to block the door to the area containing the assailants in the corridor.
Mr Barrett said PSNI officers arrived in three minutes and apprehended a large number of the group, many of whom had attempted to re-board the minibus.
Although it has been reported that only one arrest was made he says he is of the impression that others are having their involvement in the attack investigated. “Many of the criminals are clearly identifiable,” he said.
Mr Barrett said the media coverage describing the attack as an “altercation” is not representative of the nature of what happened.
He said the “private meeting” was invaded and attacked with “violent intent”, but that it had been made to look as if it had been a row between two parties.
“Our guys basically just blocked the door” he said adding that it was “not a back and forth fight”
“Nobody on our side has been arrested nor has there been any suggestion of wrongdoing” by the PSNI.
“We’ve never had an incident like this before,” Mr Barrett said. “While the far-left had shown a willingness and intent to use violence to, as they refer to it, “de-platform” opponents, Sunday marks a new departure and a shocking escalation on previous attacks or threats.”
He continued, “There were quite a few women and a few children in the room” adding that “God only knows what would have happened if they (the attackers) had made it into the main room”.
“There would have been no controlling it at that point,” he says. “These people had hammers and other weapons.”
He says he believes there was “intention” on behalf of the attackers to cause serious injury and that “people could have been killed”.
“They may have intended to leave behind corpses,” he said. “Thankfully, because of the courage of those who prevented the attackers from entering the room, that didn’t happen.”
“There’s no stun setting on a hammer” he said adding “ if you hit someone on the head with a hammer, the likelihood is that they will die”.
He paid tribute to what he said was “a handful of young men of great courage” who he said should be applauded “both for their bravery and discipline” in “holding the line and thus preventing what could have been a much worse situation.”
Mr Barrett said that the Ard Fheis continued as planned after the attack.
Anti Fascist Ireland said that events at Lough Erne Hotel had begun as a legitimate protest and that the hotel ‘had questions to answer’. They added that: “In Ireland, hate speech and fascist politics have always provoked a swift response from militant Anti-Fascists. This will not change.”