100,000 March In Dublin Against Water Charges

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Banner on Saturday’s march condemning Labour leader Joan Burton after scores of water charge demonstrators were arrested in Jobstown last November
Banner on Saturday’s march condemning Labour leader Joan Burton after scores of water charge demonstrators were arrested in Jobstown last November

HUGE numbers of anti-water-charges demonstrators marched through Dublin city last Saturday, ending with a 100,000-strong rally at the Spire on O’Connell Street, with the densely-packed crowd stretching all the way down to Abbey Street.

More protesters listened to the speeches from further away with Right2Water’s Brendan Ogle introducing various speakers. It was the fifth major protest day organised by Right2Water, which comprises trade unions, community organisations and political parties.

Marchers gathered at Heuston and Connolly Stations and proceeded to the Spire where speeches began after 3pm. ‘All my friends know how crap the government are,’ 16-yr-old Jamie Harrington belted out in his speech. Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said the numbers show the government is on the run over water charges.

Independent TD Finian McGrath said the scale of the protest has sent out the clearest message yet to government that water charges must be abolished. Sinn Féin Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald urged the government to do just that in the next budget and described Irish Water as ‘one fiasco after the other’.

Organisers said the demonstration was the biggest so far of the water charges campaign. The protesters gathered at two meeting points located near the train stations of Heuston in the western part of the city, and Connolly in the city’s east and marched off at 2pm.

Dozens of groups of local residents joined the protest, with columns of demonstrators marching in from the suburbs. ‘Game of Thrones’ star, Liam Cunningham joined the march. Many of Saturday’s protesters had been arrested or faced charges after the demonstration in Jobstown in November 2014.

At that November march Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton had been trapped in her car by the protesters for about two hours and following that scores had been arrested and charged. After Saturday’s demonstrators gathered at the Spire, several anti-water charge speakers, including Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, Dublin City Councilor Bríd Smith, People Before Profit MP Joan Collins, and Mandate trade union secretary John Douglas, addressed the rally.

According to Right2Water spokesman David Gibney, the protest was held in order to remind the government that the problem had not ‘gone away’. ‘We’re saying very firmly that it hasn’t and this will be the biggest issue when it comes to the next general election,’ Gibney said. ‘This is not what the Irish people want.

‘We want to continue paying for our water through progressive general taxation. The key thing today we want is to get rid of both water charges and Irish Water. We want change in this policy,’ he added. Today saw between 80,000 and 100,000 people from all over the country gather in Dublin to restate our demand for the abolition of water charges.’

He said that the protest was also aimed at drawing attention to other issues, such as access to healthcare, education and the lack of housing. ‘This demonstration today it is not just about water. This is about the type of society we want to live in and a vision for the future,’ he said. His words were largely echoed by one of the protesters, Mick Bates, who said that the people were concerned about many problems and wanted the current government to resign.

‘It’s not only about water now – it’s about property tax, Universal Social Charge, you name it. There’s been so many kick downs and we’re not getting anything back. People just can’t afford to live anymore. This protest has gone way beyond water now . . . It’s really to remove this government from power.

‘A lot of people joined the protest because the water charge was the final straw for them,’ he added.

The demonstration caused major traffic chaos, with the Irish police advising motorists to avoid the city centre. This protest was the latest in a series of rallies following the announcement by the Irish government in 2014 of the new water charge from the beginning of 2015, costing households several hundred euros a year.

At a press conference held ahead of the rally, the trade unions affiliated to Right2Water welcomed the decision by the TEEU (Technical, Engineering & Electrical Union) to join the campaign last week. The TEEU’s Executive voted to join Unite, Mandate, CWU, CPSU and OPATSI in supporting what Unite official and Right2Water coordinator Brendan Ogle described as ‘the greatest mobilisation of people power seen since the foundation of the state’.

Mandate General Secretary John Douglas said: ‘Right2Water is about opposition to water charges and the defence of a public good – but it is also about much more. ‘The hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets of our towns and cities under the Right2Water banner know that water charges are just the tip of the austerity iceberg. Just months before the centenary of 1916, Ireland is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world where hundreds of thousands of us struggle to just get by.

‘Only yesterday we learnt 300,000 children are in need of the means-tested Back-to-School allowance in order to help meet the costs of our supposedly free education system. At the same time, a relatively small few flourish in barely imaginable wealth. We need to assert our Right2Water – and it’s clear that people also want dramatic change in a number of policy areas. That is why, in May of this year, the Right2Water Trade Unions issued a draft set of Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government and submitted the Principles to a public consultation process.’

Unite official and Right2Water coordinator Brendan Ogle said: ‘Our experience in the Right2Water campaign is that, when we all work together, we can generate change – change that goes far beyond the issue of water charges. The “Banners Over Bridges” action mounted last week in cities, towns and villages throughout Ireland and beyond not only advertised Saturday’s demonstration – far more importantly, it was a clear demonstration of the unity and determination which has characterised the greatest mobilisation of people power seen since the foundation of the state.

‘As the largest civil society organisation in the country, the trade union movement has been crucial to this mobilisation. In July, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions formally adopted an anti-water-charges position, and we are delighted that the TEEU has now voted to affiliate to Right2Water . . . First we need to abolish water charges and ensure public ownership of our water in perpetuity. And then we need to change the type of society we live in to one based on equality, fairness and solidarity rather than one based on greed and exploitation.’

The CPSU’s Dee Quinlan said: ‘If we accept these charges and recognise Irish Water, we are then in acceptance of the inevitable privatisation of water in this country. If the end goal of this unfair policy is not privatisation, then why is our government stubbornly refusing to hold a referendum to enshrine ownership of our water services in the hands of the public?’