The Dublin government has attempted to turn the tables on its left-wing opponents this week with efforts to portray them as “dangerous” and “anti-democratic”.
The exchanges came amid ongoing demonstrations over the imprisonment of anti-austerity protestors in Dublin. Five activists were ordered to be locked up by a court last week for failing to stay away from the installation of water meters.
A hunger strike begun by two of the men in protest at their detention was abandoned on Monday. However, plans are well advanced for a major public demonstration in Dublin on March 21st next by all those opposed to the new water tax.
In an interview on Thursday, Labour Environment Minister Alan Kelly (pictured) said the protestors and their supporters have a desire to “create chaos and instability”.
“It’s all about creating insurrection, trying to make the country into chaos,” he said.
He was speaking after socialist TD Ruth Coppinger said water meter installers had been put in an “insidious position” but should consider the consequences of the work they carry out.
“They obviously need work but also the community do not want the meters that they are installing,” she said. “At some point, if you are doing a job you have to consider the consequences of it.”
Kelly said Ms Coppinger’s comments “showed her true colours”.
“Ruth Coppinger and her band of people will lead people up to the top of the hill and then abandon them.”
Responding to Mr Kelly’s remarks, Ms Coppinger said Mr Kelly’s comments were “a slur” on the people involved in the anti water charges movement.
“This is a tactic out of Thatcher’s handbook to try denigrate a movement of working class people. This is from the deputy leader of the Labour Party, the party of Connolly and Larkin? It is a sign of how far to the right Labour has drifted,” said Ms Coppinger.
SINN FEIN ‘RULE OF FEAR’
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Health Minister Leo Varadkar argued that any Sinn Fein-led government would involve a “rule of fear”.
Pointing to claims that Sinn Fein is run in a dictatorial manner by its officer board, he said in a Sinn Fein administration, there would be “no party whip, just party chains”.
“Its members swear blind allegiance and have made worship of the party like their religion,” he said. “There would be no independent thinking in a Sinn Fein-led government, not even groupthink. There would be just one thought, one rule. And that would be the rule of fear.”
Minister Varadkar was responding to criticism that he was presiding over a system of abuse and neglect of public patients in Ireland’s hospitals, with new reports of unnecessary deaths and neglect of patients in hospitals in Dublin and Ballinasloe.
Life expectancy for those in the most deprived parts of the State is now up to two decades less than for those in more affluent areas, according to new statistics.
Sinn Fein also clashed with Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the minimum wage and his own pay scale.
Kenny was asked about his annual pay of 185,000 euro ($207,000) at the launch of the government’s ‘Low Pay Commission’ to advise on the minimum wage.
When he was asked: “Are you actually worth three-and-a-half grand a week?” the Taoiseach responded: “Very much so”. He added: “We’ve cut everything to the bone.”
Deputy Doherty said the comments were “almost laughable”.
“The Taoiseach needs a reality check. A hospital system where people are lying on trolleys is ‘cut to the bone.’ People struggling to pay their mortgage are ‘cut to the bone’. Young people who cannot get a job in this country are ‘cut to the bone’. Those who are finding it hard to live on the minimum wage are ‘cut to the bone’.
“A salary of 185,000 euro is not ‘cut to the bone’.
“Not only does this show the Taoiseach’s failing grasp on reality, it also highlights a near contempt for those who are struggling to earn a living on wages which hardly pay the bills.”
‘RIDICULOUS’ JAIL JOURNEY
Meanwhile, the case of a Donegal woman who failed to pay a fine was also being cited by Sinn Fein as an example of the government’s departure from economic realities.
The woman, who has one child in primary school, had already paid half of a 450 euro penalty for not paying the television license fee. But this week she was arrested in the early morning and taken hundreds of miles -- by taxi -- to Mountjoy prison in Dublin. She was put in a holding cell for three hours before being released, and then handed a bus ticket back to Donegal.
Local Sinn Fein Councillor Gary Doherty says it was “morally wrong” to take the woman to prison and a “criminal misuse” of Garda resources.
“It was deemed by whoever was in charge that day that it was worthwhile taking two Gardai away from their duties here and taking her the whole way to Mountjoy.
“When you think of the money it would cost. This woman had to be taken to Dublin in a taxi through Sligo and Longford to Dublin. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”