Water Protests Still Running

Photo by Maria Shields O’Kelly.

Photo by Maria Shields O’Kelly.

Saturday March 21st saw the latest National Demonstration against Irish Water and the oncoming water charges. The conflict between implementation of this policy and the significant minority who dissent is becoming one of the defining political struggles of the austerity era.

NewsFour was on the scene to take the nation’s temperature and see whether the nation is running hot or cold.

Some weeks before the National Demonstration, we spoke with Francis O’Reilly of People Before Profit, who is an activist and unofficial organiser for Right2Water in Ringsend and adjacent Dublin 4 areas.

“After the big event in December, the National Assembly, the Right2Water steerage committee couldn’t fully agree on tactics, so there’s a possibility that March 21st won’t be as well attended.”

Cautious words that proved to be inaccurate. The March 21st event is estimated by organisers as having been attended by 80,000 protestors. RTE credited ‘observers’ as estimating closer to 30,000 or 40,000, similar to their estimates for the December event. No official numbers were released by the Garda press.

Instead of proceeding directly to a single assembly point, three were designated near the centre of the City: Heuston Station, Connolly Station, and Merrion Square, the site of the December Assembly. From these points, the various local contingents joined into three marches that headed to O’Connell Street.

This proved to be a better venue for a large gathering than Merrion Square: screens and PA systems were deployed along the length of the street to prevent the possibility of crushes near the stage (adjacent to the Parnell Monument) which had been a risk factor in December.

The March 21st gathering was notable for the diversity of concerns among its attendees. As well as objections to Irish Water and water quality in Ireland, the main themes seemed to be class struggle, political corruption and fierce objections to financial austerity.

Outside Dr. Quirkey’s Emporium, two protestors stood handing out Anti-Austerity Alliance literature under a large Greek flag, in solidarity with the new Greek government party. Also visible were a few V for Vendetta masks, indicating an anti-Scientology presence. Strange bedfellows indeed!

While water charges are standard across Europe and other parts of the world, the implementation of the charges in a cash-strapped Ireland seems to be triggering other political sensitivities among the Irish people. Francis O’Reilly, for his part, chooses to remain focussed. “What’s important is a visible campaign against the charges. People should put signs in their windows, for instance. Nothing frightens a politician more than a visible campaign.”

With the government showing no sign of altering course at time of writing, the conflict seems set to continue.

By Rúairí Conneely