Crowds not seen in several years have demonstrated against water charges on the streets of Dublin city centre this afternoon as voters delivered a stunning message of no confidence in two by-elections to the Dublin parliament.
Traffic in Dublin’s city centre came to a standstill due to today’s unprecedented collective anti-austerity march. The demonstration took one hour and twenty minutes to pass the Spire in O’Connell Street as they made their way from Parnell Square, around the city finishing at the GPO in O’Connell Street.
While the Garda press office could declined to give a figure for the numbers in attendance, one garda observing the march admitted the numbers could be as high as 100,000, a giant number by the standard of such protests.
Organisers of the rally, Right2Water, addressed the crowds outside the GPO. “In the past, on various other issues, we have seen situations where there have been protest, and nothing else,” said Brendan Ogle, a spokesperson for the group.
“This is one step; one early step people power mobilising against a government that has abandoned them .
“[They] are trying to turn our human right to water into a commodity to be sold. I think people are resisting this all around the country, and today, it’ll be visible on the streets.”
Banners could be seen from communities across Dublin, and trade unions Mandate, Unite, the CPSU, the Communication Workers Union and the plasterers’ union, OPATSI, as well as Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, eirigi, and others.
There was huge anger directed at Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as well as the Labour Party and at Tanaiste Joan Burton in particular, for her comments during the week that anti-water charges protesters all seemed to have expensive mobile phones.
A number of people carried placards with pairs of tin cans strung together attached, with slogans such as “My little phoney, Joaney” while one man was dressed as an iPhone.
Among the chants were, “Enda in your ivory tower, this is called people power” and “From the rivers to the sea, Irish water will be free”.
Some of the placards said: “Sold out by our own Government”; “Stick your water meters up your arse” and “Can’t pay, won’t pay”.
“Enough is enough,” said Kathleen McWilliams, a woman in her 50s from Artane. “The property tax was bad enough but I have nothing left to give.”
There was also anger directed at the mainstream media which many protesters pointed out had been ignoring anti-water meter protests around the country.
One man was distributing plastic water meter hub caps which he said could be used to ensure a household’s water supply while others were handing out leaflets advising people that Irish Water did not have a legal right to force people to sign a contract with them, could not pursue money from people’s wages and could not cut off people’s water supply.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett urged everyone to take ‘selfies’ and email their photo to Tanaiste Joan Burton.
“Let her wallpaper her office with all the photos of people here. Will we pay the water charges?,” he asked, to which the crowd responded loudly, “No, no, no.” He urged people to take part in planned demonstrations around the State on November 1st.
“Today we brought Dublin to a standstill. On November 1st we will bring the country to a standstill.”
The crowd was also addressed by Independent socialist TD Clare Daly, Sinn Fein councillor Daithi Doolan Jimmy Kelly of the Unite trade union and community activist John Bisset.
As the marchers were making their voices heard, the results of two by-election has confirmed a massive swing to socialist, republican and anti-establishment .
As counting began in the Dublin South-West and Roscommon South-Leitrim constituencies this morning, it quickly became immediately clear that a transformed Irish electoral process would sent a radical message to the coalition government.
In both constituencies, the combined vote for the three traditional establishment parties -- Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour -- saw an unprecedented collapse, falling to 45% in Roscommon/South Leitrim and to just 26% in Dublin South-West.
In the Tallaght basketball arena, where the Dublin South-West vote was counted this evening, Sinn Fein’s Cathal King was narrowly pipped for a seat by Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party. The dramatic count saw King top the poll and hold the lead until the final count, and only with transfers from Fine Gael and a conservative independent candidate, did Murphy pull ahead.
Paul Murphy (pictured, second from left) is well-known to republicans asa former MEP who was arrested in 2011 by Israeli forces while taking part in anti-blockade humanitarian mission to Gaza before being deported. He also set up the scambridge.org website to expose unscrupulous practices of the government’s ‘JobBridge’ welfare-to-work scheme.
While political commentators have suggested Sinn Fein’s relatively quiet campaign against water charges had allowed support to leak towards the more activist socialist candidate, the result was in many ways a carbon copy of the Dublin West by-election in May, when Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party pipped Sinn Fein’s Paul Donnelly, again on right-wing transfers.
Cathal King admitted Sinn Fein’s policy on water charges did confuse some voters. He said voters had been confused by his party pledging to abolish water charges if in government, but saying they would keep Irish Water in operation but funded through general taxation. He also noted that Sinn Fein leaders had made conflicting and contradictory statements in recent weeks about whether they would agree to pay the charges or not.
The Socialists of the Anti-Austerity Alliance made easy capital from such mixed messages as water ‘sign-up’ forms began filtering through post boxes in the constituency. They have vowed that they will abolish water charges and the Water Board if in government, and have openly urged people to boycott their water bills and join a campaign of non-payment.
King said he was “delighted” with the first count result. He said he would’t be paying his water charges but didn’t encourage voters to follow his lead.
He told reporters in Tallaght today: “I think it did confuse some people trying to identify the difference between Irish Water - the company - and actual water charges.
“We tried our best to get that message across - that Irish Water isn’t water charges. So yeah, it did confuse things a bit over the last couple of days and some parties took advantage of that by misleading people on our message.”
King pointed out that his party is the only realistic avenue for people who wan’t the charges abolished.
“Over 60 per cent of people have voted for parties that are against the water charges,” he said. “We believe we’re the party to change that. We’ve given 100 per cent commitment to abolish them and, if in government, we will do that.”
He expressed disappointment at the low turnout of 34.5%.
“There seems to be a bit of voter apathy out there, people aren’t happy with what the government has done. People feel unfortunately that it doesn’t make a difference to vote and we need to change that,” he added.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he did not accept the party’s mixed messages on water charges cost the party the seat.
We never said we were going to win this seat,” Adams said this evening at the count centre. “Elements of the media, some of the pundits, said that Cathal was going to walk in, that he was a sure thing. We never said that.”
“We said the contrary, we said it would be a hard battle, it’s a very volatile constituency and it could end up as it’s ended up, that we would top the poll and then lose out on transfers.”
The Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald defended the party’s position on the water charges.
“Families will have to decide from themselves what they want to do. So we’re not in the business of going around telling families how to deal with their domestic business,” she said.
Socialists were understandably ecstatic about the result. “No! Way! We won’t pay!” they chanted, as Murphy was deemed to be elected.
The new TD, who will represent the Anti-Austerity Alliance in the Dail, told journalists tonight that the coalition’s claims of an economic recovery meant nothing to the people of Tallaght. He said: “Recovery is for the rich, it’s for the 1%, it’s for the elite, it’s not for the working class people”.
Meanwhile, in Roscommon South Leitrim, an independent associated with the alternative anti-establishment organisation headed by Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is set for a resounding victory. Relative unknown Michael Fitzmaurice (pictured, left), whose campaign was largely based on protecting the rights of turf cutters, quickly outstripped his Fianna Fail competitor Ivan Connaughton on transfers from eliminated candidates and will win the seat on the 7th and final count, currently underway.
Mr Fitzmaurice told reporters he spent the day tending cattle on his farm while his campaign team tended the election count.
Sinn Fein’s Martin Kenny almost doubled the party’s vote, winning 18% of the first preference vote in another massive route of the government parties.
Mr Adams said the result was sending a “a very clear message to Government that they have no mandate to do the type of things they are doing”.
Borrowing a phrase from the Taoiseach, he said “Fine Gael and Labour have been walloped” in the byelections.
DUBLIN SOUTH WEST RESULT
Cait Keane (FG) 2,110 (Eliminated count 7)
John Lahart 2,077 (FF) (Eliminated count 5)
Pamela Kearns 2,043 (LAB) (Eliminated count 6)
Cathal King (SF) 7,288 (Eliminated count 8)
Francis Noel Duffy (GP) 447 (Eliminated count 2)
Paul Murphy (AAA) 6,540 (Elected count 8)
Nicky Coules (PBP) 530 (Eliminated count 3)
Declan Burke (IND) 681 (Eliminated count 4)
Colm O’Keeffe (IND) 74 (Eliminated count 1)
Ronan McMahon (IND) 3,146 (Eliminated count 7)
Tony Rochford (IND) 92 (Eliminated count 1)
% share of the vote 2014 (change from 2011 in brackets):
Sinn Fein 30% (+13%)
Socialist/AAA 27% (+22%)
Independent/Others 15% (+12%)
Labour 9% (-27%)
Fine Gael 9% (-19%)
Fianna Fail 9% (-2%)
Green Party 2% (+1%)
ROSCOMMON SOUTH LEITRIM RESULT
Maura Hopkins (FG) 5,593 (Eliminated count 6)
Ivan Connaughton (FF) 7,334 (Eliminated count 7)
Martin Kenny (SF) 5,906 (Eliminated count 5)
John Kelly (LAB) 2,037 (Eliminated count 4)
Michael Fitzmaurice (IND) 6,220 (Elected count 7)
Emmet Corcoran (IND) 1,262 (Eliminated count 3)
John McDermott (IND) 2,944 (Eliminated count 4)
Gerry O’Boyle (IND) 82 (Eliminated count 1)
Tom Crosby (IND) 1,030 (Eliminated count 2)
Des Guckian (IND) 902 (Eliminated count 1)
% share of the vote 2014 (change from 2011 in brackets):
Independent 37% (+27%)
Fianna Fail 22% (-17%)
Sinn Fein 18% (+10%)
Fine Gael 17% (-22%)
Labour Party 6% (+4%)
Green Party - (-2%)