Several hundred demonstrated outside a Dublin Garda police station after shocking scenes of Garda brutality against anti-austerity protestors.
Some 300 people gathered at Coolock Garda station on Wednesday night in response to the treatment of anti-water charge protesters and arrests in Santry earlier in the day.
At Northwood in Santry, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was attending an opening at a sports clinic when Gardai reacted violently to a demonstration. Protestors, including elderly women, were flung to the ground by Gardai to make way for the Taoiseach’s car.
After darkness fell, a growing crowd who had made their way to Coolock Garda station to protest were suddenly charged by Gardai using batons and pepper spray. As hundreds, arrived, a highly-charged stand-off developed.
“The guards were telling us to move back, and a couple of words were thrown back and forth,” said local man Wayne Osbourne. “Then one of the guards started spraying people in the face. It hit one woman and it went directly into her eyes and mouth. She was coughing and gasping for air.”
Armed with revolvers and pepper spray, the Gardai pointed their weapons and hurled verbed abuse at the protestors, but without major violence.
Local lady Olive Byrne said that when people saw video footage on Facebook of what happened earlier in the day, hundreds more from the locality came down in support.
“It was a peaceful protest against Irish Water, there was no need for the gardai to use pepper spray,” she said.
Elizabeth Byrne, who was at the Santry protest earlier, said she was “in shock” at what she had seen. “I was sick to the stomach to see Enda Kenny sit in his car and watch women and old men, one who is 74 years of age, being pushed and dragged by gardai. I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.
She continued: “How can Enda Kenny sit in his car and give a thumbs up? It’s a disgrace.”
June Whitley said she was pushed to the ground at the protest by the gardai. “It was a peaceful water meter protest, there was no need for it,” she said.
Gardai refused to confirm the use of pepper spray to mainstream journalists, and blamed republican ‘dissidents’ for orchestrating the protests.
The violence erupted the day after the High Court granted an order setting up a 20-metre exclusion zone around water meter installations.
Speaking out against the ruling, Anti Austerity Alliance Councillor Michael O’Brien said that attempts to criminalise the growing protest movement will fail, stating that protesters represent the majority working class sentiment.
Last weekend, despite cold and rainy weather, between 150,000 and 200,000 protestors turned out in scores of coordinated demonstrations across the 26 County state. It is believed to have been the largest day of action the South has seen since the 1981 hunger strikes. Another mass rally is due to take place in Dublin on December 10.
The head of Irish Water, John Tierney, this week apologised for “mistakes”. However, he did not refer to accusations of profiteering and cronyism at his organisation, and did not specify any planned changes to its operations.
Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton told the Dublin parliament on Wednesday that she expected the maximum bill for a family of four to be 200 euro, but later insisted she was only giving a personal opinion. Her comments came amid reports that Labour Party members are said to fear the party will be “obliterated” at the next general election, due by 2016.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny responded to the growing discontent with a stark warning that the top rate of income tax could be hiked by a crippling 4 per cent if the new utility is abolished. He said the government would “very shortly” take decisions on Irish Water that would provide greater “clarity” about the organisation.
Meanwhile, officials have been warning of the possibility of hefty fines being levied on those who do not pay their water charges. The fines and charges themselves could be deducted directly from the salaries and social welfare of householders who refuse to pay their bills.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he has decided not to pay his water charges bill “in solidarity with those families and hard pressed citizens who very simply cannot pay”. His move follows a similar statement by the party’s deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald at the weekend.
Speaking in the Dail, Mr Adams said rumoured Government concessions, such as a flat charge, would not suffice and that those who took to the streets in such large numbers last Saturday would not be satisfied with anything less than the abolition of the Water Tax.
“These citizens are sick to the teeth of the relentless austerity and endless list of taxes and charges aimed at those on low and middle incomes which your Government has imposed,” he said. “For many, the Water Tax is the final straw. Taoiseach, you have dismissed their concerns.”
Mr Adams said that when the coalition government assumed office three years ago, the Taoiseach spoke loftily of a ‘democratic revolution’, which would sweep away the failed political approaches and attitudes of the past.
“We all know now that this was merely words without substance,” he said. “On Saturday, the citizens of this state showed you what a real democratic revolution looks like.”