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Dublin shop owner recalls looting as premises ransacked

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A shop owner in Dublin said he phoned gardaí more than 20 times while he hid in the basement of his shop for more than two hours during looting on Thursday night.

The Gala Express on Lower Abbey Street was one of 13 shops that was broken into during the disturbances in the city in the hours following a stabbing attack on Parnell Square East, in which three children and a woman were injured.

As well as the looting of shops, 13 garda vehicles were burned or damaged and a bus and Luas tram were set on fire. A number of gardaí were injured and 34 arrests were made.

Reji Yohannan, one of the co-owners of the Gala Express, and two staff members decided to shut the shop and try to go home when they became aware of disturbances outside.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Yohannan said that by 8pm, as they were about to leave “one big mob came in, they had hammers. They crashed the glass window by hammer and you know everyone came in and we just went to the basement.”

CCTV footage shows the moment the glass door was broken and looters broke in, as Mr Yohannan and the two employees ran down the stairs to the basement, where they hid in a small office.

He said he turned off the lights in the hope nobody would come downstairs and phoned gardaí for help.

“Minimum 20 times I called the guards, minimum 20 times and I did not get any help.”

When he did speak to officers on the phone, they told him “they are coming, they are coming” and to “be safe”. However, gardaí did not responds as promised to those calls, he said.

The shop was ransacked on Thursday night

He said his biggest fear was that the shop would be set alight and they would not get out.

“It was really a frightened (sic) situation because we three people were there in the small room. Suppose if something goes up, if they burn the shop there you know, we three people are down there”.

Despite the fear of a fire, Mr Yohannan said they could not go upstairs.

“We couldn’t do that because you know all the people that are there with the hammers and all the knives…so we couldn’t go up. If we go up, that’s, that’s end of our life, you know.”

Eventually, they made contact with a staff member who was at home and had a key to the shop. He made his way into the city and found a garda on the street and they entered the shop.

CCTV footage from inside the shop shows groups of people coming in, taking money from the till, along with cigarettes, vape and alcohol.

The shop faces a bill of around €80,000 due to damage and stock lost as well as lost earnings as it had to close following the looting and only reopened this morning.

Reji Yohannan said damage and losses amounted to around €80,000

Mr Yohannan said he insurance will cover some of the damage but is waiting to see.

Showing a destroyed coffee machine, he said: “That’s a Rex Royal, the top grade machine, you know, that’s our life. We thought we’ll just spend that much money because a lot of people are there for coffee, you know, so we thought we’ll go for a good machine. So that’s why we spent 15 grand on the machine.

“And it’s only two months now, you know, this coffee machine, and it’s completely ruined. I don’t know why people are ruining this machine. The same way with two tills. You know, they took all the money. Why they are ruining the machine?”

Mr Yohannan said he has lived in Ireland for more than 20 years but is thinking now of leaving the country, along with his wife and two children.

He said: “We are really thinking; is it safe now to stay here. We need protection, from the Government side, from the guards’ side, they never thought this would happen, but it cannot to happen again.”

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Separately, the Chief Executive of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association said the sector is regularly dealing with “feral youths”, and the fear and fright that shop workers have cannot be removed.

“Even though this [last Thursday’s violence] was extreme, it is replicated on a very regular basis. There are feral youths, there are people who are just running amok, and it most certainly has become much worse over the last two years,” Vincent Jennings said.

He said many CSNA members were caught up in last week’s the violence and while some were “fortunate enough” to close, they still had to deal with their staff who were fearful the following morning.

“Over two hours waiting on O’Connell Street for somebody is not good enough and its a growing problem, and we have alerted both the minister, the Department of Justice and the gardaí. We’ve alerted them on this matter for quite some time, but nothing has been done.”

Mr Jennings said that retail workers should be considered essential workers and assaults on them should be given an extra penalty like gardaí and other front line workers.

On the promise of more gardaí and additional resources, Mr Jennings said this will reassure shop workers but “we need there to be changes to the way that gardaí respond to calls”.

He added: “There needs to be guards on the street. There needs to be resources given to those guards. They need to be properly trained and adequately trained and trained to respond in an efficient fashion. This is our real moment now to make a difference and to change the way of policing.”

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