Chaos erupted at the annual conference of the Labour Party in Galway today as Gardai were unable to hold back protestors against the 26-County government’s austerity program.
The junior party in the 26-County coalition was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its foundation by Irish republican socialist martyr James Connolly. However, the spirit of Connolly was firmly on the outside of the building as over a thousand protesters crowded through Garda police barricades to protest at the main conference hall.
Fearful Labour delegates had to be locked inside the Bailey Allen hall at the National University of Ireland, Galway as a good-humoured crowd from many organisations and none held an impromptu rally outside the building.
About seven thousand protestors had originally gathered in Galway’s Eyre Square earlier this afternoon before marching to the conference. The rally, organised by the Campaign against Household and Water Taxes, was addressed by Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins, Richard Boyd-Barrett of People before Profit and independent TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.
A colourful, noisy parade filled the streets to the university in unusually dry weather.
While the main rally took place nearby, out of sight of he Bailey Allen building where the conference was taking place, placard-waving campaigners pushed through security lines to let the junior coalition party hear its protest.
There were some scuffles as the protestors twice breached the security barricade. One protestor from Occupy Galway was arrested, but was later released by the Gardai after a public appeal by the crowd.
Another said he was threatened with pepper spray. “I’m here because I want to fight for my future,” said the young protester from Dublin. “I want to be able to go to college, but Eamon Gilmore won’t let that happen.”
Just hours before the security cordon outside the university grounds disintegrated, Tanaiste and Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore sent a message to the protesters.
“[I would tell them] to have a nice day,” he said.
Protestors burnt a copy of Labour’s election promises before the barricades melted away and calm was restored. A peaceful, good-humoured crowd chanted: “Who’s democracy? Our democracy” and “They say cut back, we say fight back”.
With hundreds of protestors still outside the main door of the conference hall, the conference is continuing. Gilmore is to deliver his leader’s address at around 8.30pm tonight.