Tens of thousands march to Dáil to protest water charges

Tens of thousands march to Dáil to protest water charges View Gallery

The presence of tens of thousands of anti-water charge protesters in the streets surrounding the Dáil is certainly another warning shot for the government.

There is no reliable figure for how many people have actually turned out on a bitterly cold day in Dublin.

Trade unionist Brendan Ogle, who one of the organisers of the Right to Water protest march, is probably over optimistic in saying that it could reach 80,000. Garda estimates are putting it at 30,000-plus.

Gardai had set up crash barriers to ensure that the protest was held at the rear of Leinster House on Merrion Street rather than at the Kildare Street side.

The designated section in Merrion Street was full to bursting, and further protesters occupying the street to the south of Merrion Square. “Enda in your Eiffel Tower, this is called people power” was one of the chants.

The protest was marshalled by stewards from the Right to Water campaign wearing high visibility vests, with proceedings on the main stage broadcast on large screens and loudspeakers dotted around Merrion Square.

The speakers included Diarmuid O’Flynn of the “Ballyhea Says No” group which opposed the bank bailout. Shay L’Estrange of “Crumlin Says No” praised protesters for halting water metering in estates in Dublin.

Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams had plenty of party supporters in the crowd to cheer him. He told the protesters that they had the government “on the run”.

There were protesters dressed as Santa Claus and others wearing builder’s hats with water stopcocks attached. And to break up the speeches, there was live entertainment from Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey and others

There was a heavy garda presence, with members of the dog unit walking in the grounds of Leinster House with their German shepherds. But so far, the protests have been entirely peaceful. Independent TD Clare Daly insisted, in her own inimitable way, that the politicians who were “whingeing and cowering” behind the walls of Leinster House were “pretty shook”.

The government’s line is that there will be no change to the water charges package announced last month. The reduced annual water charges of €100 for a single adult household and €160 for two adults or more may be bearable for many voters.

But the scale of today's mobilisation in a country not known for large public demonstrations is another sign of how six years of recession has changed politics here. There are certainly a large number of voters who do not want water charges at any price. So it will go on to the general election in 2016.

One of the chants from the Spectacle of Defiance group during the protest was: “Today we march. Tomorrow we vote.”

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