Dublin city was shut down this afternoon when tens of thousands of protesters descended on the capital for the latest mass demonstration against water charges.
Protesters travelled in their hundreds and thousands from towns and cities across Ireland, despite warnings in the mainstream media of a “sinister fringe violence” and even of a storm, dubbed a “weather bomb”.
For many, the Right2Water protest was the largest they had ever seen in their lifetime. The high turnout came despite the Fine Gael/Labour coalition government last month announcing a small reduction in the domestic water charges it is imposing on every household.
Estimates of the final number varied between 80,000 and 120,000, with the crowd spreading out across different protest areas in the city. Sinn Fein, republican and socialist political flags were strongly represented throughout.
In the city centre, thousands of protesters gathered on O’Connell Bridge and O’Connell Street in an impromptu act of civil disobedience, blocking traffic. Gardai were at the scene as the crowd chanted “No way, we won’t pay”. Two protestors were reported to be injured when vehicles attempted to drive through the crowd.
A large area around Leinster House and Government Buildings were described by Gardai as being “in lockdown”. That including Molesworth Street, where the death of a homeless man last week renewed anger over the renewed enrichment of a small sector of Irish society amid escalating austerity measure.
The deployment of hundreds of riot police and regular Gardai inflamed tensions in Kildare Street, where a barricade prevented protestors from assembling outside the Dublin parliament at Leinster House. Gardai were accused of attempting to incite trouble by shoving into the crowd. In defiance, the large crowd chanted “Whose streets? Our streets”, but did not otherwise respond.
The mainstream media present were strongly criticised by protestors for universally pushing a pro-government line, and a van operated by state-run television was the subject of a graffiti attack.
On Merrion Square, a more family-friendly event took place. Among those addressing that crowd were Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald, as well as a delegation from Detroit, where a similar anti-water charges campaign is underway.
A group of men dressed as Santa played music as they waved the sign “No Pressies for Enda Kenny”. One placard which delighted Sinn Fein activists read “A Gerry [Adams] Christmas and a Mary Lou [McDonald] New Year”.
Single mother-of-two Evelyn Cunningham was one of 17 packed buses which set off from towns and villages across County Donegal shortly after 6am.
She said residents in Donegal live in the “forgotten country” and are already paying higher household charges than other counties following a council vote. Elsewhere most homeowners have sceptic tanks, while others have brown water coming from taps.
Also braving the winter chill that whipped up the River Liffey was Maggie McClure, who said the long road trip from Donegal was worth it.
“We have to do it,” she said. “Everybody has to stick together. The Government wastes far too much money. Their wages and expenses are too high and they expect us to love on nothing.”
Wendy Holton, her daughter, granddaughter and their neighbours, were all on board one of four coaches that travelled from Carlow.
“Enough is enough, they have to start listening to the people of Ireland,” she said, stood in the path of several buses.
“I’m doing this for my grandchild. Ask Enda Kenny to live on 340 euro a week, and be expected to pay out more.”
Socialist TD Paul Murphy said the protest had exceeded all expectations.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “It was beyond all expectations and it should give Minister Kenny food for thought when he says he’s been around the country and talked to the ‘reasonable people’.
“The government will be forced back on this issue or forced down.”
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams TD said the imposition of the water tax had caused “huge hardship” to families and communities already devastated by government austerity policies.
He condemned “small elements” who he said had departed from the main demonstration and “engaged in trouble”.
He said families “cannot take any more” and government policy was pushing them “over the edge”.
“People power has already forced this arrogant government to make concessions on its water policy. This is not something they wanted to do, but people power ensured that they had no choice.
“If the government was listening to the huge numbers who have taken to the streets, as it claims it has, they would know that they are demanding that the Water Tax is scrapped not capped. The only acceptable solution is to abolish Water Charges, and to dismantle Irish Water.”