Tens of thousands of protestors turned out to oppose water charges at Right2Water demonstrations across the country last Saturday. In Dublin City Centre, at the largest rally, community and political groups were joined by representatives from six trade unions.
Two groups made their way separately from Christchurch and from Connolly Station, via the quays, to congregate at the GPO, bringing city centre traffic to a standstill.
Speakers at the rally included deputies Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein, Richard Boyd Barrett of People before Profit, Joan Collins of the Anti-Austerity Alliance, and homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry.
Brendan Ogle, Unite and Right2Water spokesman, told the crowd the “gombeen parties” of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour had ruled the country since independence and it needed to stop. He asked at how many more elections “spoofers” and “corrupt politicians” were going to be voted in and said if they were voted in again, then the country was getting what it deserved.
He also called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to call the election.
Fr McVerry told the crowd the government had failed to address the hardship and suffering of the people and said the homeless crisis of the last two years had grown into an emergency.
He also queried why homelessness figures for last November and December had not yet been released. Earlier this month, a whistleblower alleged the numbers had been manipulated down to about half the true figure.
Protests took place across the state, and around 3,000 anti-water charge protestors braved driving rain in Cork city.
John Lonergan of the Right2Water campaign got a huge response when he reminded protestors that a government politician had once remarked “water doesn’t fall from the sky.”
“What planet are they on?” said Mr Lonergan to loud laughs as the sheeting rain came bucketing down on the crowd gathered outside Cork City Library on the Grand Parade.
Campaigners said this week’s protests were part of sustained action, which will include a conference and another giant demonstration on the last Saturday before the election.
While the days of the current parliament are numbered, the coalition government continued to face fresh controversies. This week saw renewed allegations of corruption in the failed deployment of postal area codes, a cock-up which has already cost some 40 million euro.
Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny courted further scandal when he refused to rule out entering into coalition talks with corrupt former Minister Michael Lowry, if he is re-elected next month.
But campaign spokesman and Mandate general secretary John Douglas said the demonstrations were a step towards making water charges the number one issue for the election.
“Water charges are an unfair imposition on the public and they serve no purpose other than a transfer of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest in our society and they’re also about lining up the future privatisation of our water services,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Mary-Lou McDonald said the government had not “gotten away with their water charges and their family home tax and their cutbacks”.
“When we ask the same characters in government about people lying on hospital trolleys, or sitting chairs for hours and days on end, their answer is the same - that we must not put the recovery in jeopardy,” she said.
“The truth is, there is no real recovery - not for ordinary people. And the truth is, going into this next election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party envisage big, giveaway tax breaks for the rich, leaving the rest behind.
“As we prepare for the election, let’s take them on. And in this year, this centenary year of the Rising, as we stand in this historic spot, the place in which the Republic was proclaimed - let’s reclaim that too, We’ll take them on and we will win and we will abolish water charges for good.”