Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
An Appraisal

by Dominic Carroll (Anti-War Ireland)

The presidential re-election visit to Ireland of the world's most hated man was a spectacular failure for Bush. As importantly, the extravaganza backfired on the Irish government. Bertie Ahern played the part of a lapdog to great affect, and nobody in Ireland liked it. Unusually, the media in Ireland refrained from assisting the government from putting a positive gloss on an unpopular action (given the depth of opposition to Bush, it couldnpit do anything else), and the Bush administration was made acutely aware of the deep-felt opposition to the US president and his “War on Terror”. The Carol Coleman interview with Bush allowed us all to witness the Texan cowboy squirm when confronted with his unpopularity amongst the Irish.

It is beyond doubt that Bush was unwelcome - opposed, even - by an overwhelming majority of people in Ireland. The demonstrations against Bush were a perfect expression of the popular view, and all those who participated are to be commended.

These demos should not be measured solely by the numbers in attendance. The quality of the various protests was heartening, and each was highly effective. The Anti-War Ireland demonstration in Shannon included a substantial contingent of Shannon residents, one of whose number spoke from the platform - something that augurs well for the future of the anti-war movement in its campaign to demilitarise Shannon Airport. The mood on every demo was upbeat, and the media was captivated. Consequently, people across the country approved of and applauded the demos.

Numbers, though not the be-all and end-all (at least, they shouldnpit be) are nevertheless important. Though the turnout never approached that of February 15th 2003 (AWI never expected anything approaching such a turnout), the various demonstrations were nevertheless well attended.

The Anti-War Ireland demonstration in Shannon attracted 1,200: a good turnout given the obstacles of a Friday demo in a town besieged by the state and under the shadow of a media-generated fear of trouble. The attendance came close to the turnout of the last big demo in Shannon (1,400: Saturday March 1st 2003), was nearly a four-fold increase on the most recent demo there (350: Saturday December 6th 2003), and can be favourably compared to the last national anti-war demo in Ireland (2,500: Saturday 20th March 2004). It should be remembered that any previous Shannon demo would have been the only demo taking place on the day in question, whereas Friday’s Shannon demo was only one of 4 or 5 demonstrations in Ireland against Bush.

In Dublin, around 15-20,000 marched on the Stop Bush Campaign demo - a very good turnout (when Reagan came in 1984, the largest demo attracted 10,000). Elsewhere - notably Galway - good crowds attended protests. To return to Shannon and Dromoland, the Stop Bush Campaign and Ambush protests on Saturday were well attended and very effective. In addition, the Ambush Peace Camp proved an effective and attractive focus for both protestors and the media.

The extraordinary and excessive security operation at Shannon - which virtually depicted protestors as an equal threat to Al Queda - has been exposed as state scare-mongering. Of course, the turnout at protests - particularly in Shannon and Dromoland - was severely depleted by this exercise in black propaganda. Nevertheless, the impression gained by people in Ireland (and the media) must surely be that these protests were never going to be anything but peaceful, and that the government and gardaI clearly exaggerated the potential for trouble. Future anti-war protests may benefit from this realisation.

The anti-war movement is now at something of a crossroads. The popular perception of the war in Iraq is set to change with the US “handover” of power to a puppet government. The violence seems set to continue, but we canpit say for sure how the US will operate in the new scenario. Its preference seems to be for a gradual “disengagement” (as in Afghanistan) from day-to-day security operations, in favour of an “Iraqi-isation” formula (as implemented - with mixed results - in previous colonial conflicts, eg. Vietnamisation, Ulsterisation). The US, it seems, may not be afforded the luxury of “disengagement”, but only time will tell. If the US forms the opinion that the problem is intractable, it will cut-and-run (regardless of Bushpis tough-guy, stay-the-course stance). Equally, the US may become permanently embroiled in the conflict (though this seems less likely). The key issue for the anti-war movement is how it operates as perceptions alter.

Finally, the anti-war movement in Ireland must recognise its own limitations (those imposed by objective conditions, and those self-imposed). Bush presented us with a brief moment of glory. But every high - the drug counsellors remind us - is inevitably succeeded by a low. As always, a sense of perspective can help us make sense of what’s possible in the next period. I sense that now is very much a moment for reflection on what to do next.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News