I read a good few articles yesterday about the anti-bank bailout protest march and subsequent scuffle and attempt to “storm” the Dáil. Having observed the whole thing, I found many of these articles and some people’s statements to be largely untrue. Early reports from Sky News greatly exaggerated the event while RTÉ’s account initially rehashed false Garda statements that nobody was injured, though this has been corrected. The article in yesterday’s Evening Herald seems to be more accurate – presumably having gathered more evidence early on Wednesday – and names the SWP and Eirigi as those responsible. Though one of the speakers outside Dáil Eireann claimed they had drawn a crowd of “about 2,500” people, the Gardaí estimated the protesters numbers at about 500. Neither see correct to me, though the estimate of 500 is at least more realistic. Many news sources are blaming the fracas on a small number of about 30 troublemakers, but the reality is there were considerably more in that group.
The crowd gathered at Parnell Square North in the pouring rain to hear speakers like Fintan O’Toole rile them up with tales of corruption, deception and selfish disregard for the well-being of the vulnerable members of Irish society. The march then headed off down O’Connell St with some groups choosing to chant obscenities along the unusually deserted thoroughfare. A group of Gardaí (mostly from Traffic Corps) kept watch at certain points while several accompanied the marchers, leading the way down closed-off streets. As the bulk of the crowd followed the Gardaí’s lead down Molesworth Street to a parked lorry opposite the Kildare Street gates of Dáil Eireann, a sizeable group (most carrying Socialist Workers Party flags) who had hung back at the rear of the march turned off down Setanta Place and headed towards the Dáil gates. The small number of Gardaí seemed unprepared for this and their initial reaction was to allow the protesters up to the gates as a handful of Gardaí formed a line along the gates. The first signs of aggression were clearly and absolutely on the protesters’ side. Several of them ran at the Gardaí and with a push from the swelling numbers behind them tried to push their way through. As the Gardaí managed to push them clear of the gates again, a few moments of a stand-off was interrupted by protesters throwing their flags and placards at the Gardaí. It was well after this point, when a second surge through the gates occurred, that the Gardaí began drawing their batons. Things got violent, but it was equally aggressive from both sides. The claims of no injuries were untrue as I personally saw two protesters bleeding from the head. The tension died down as most chose to stage a sit-down protest on Kildare Street. The protest organisers plan to return there next Tuesday “and every Tuesday” at the same time until they get what they want.
After this debacle, they can hardly expect many supporters next week. The organisation of the event by the Right To Work Campaign – a coalition of political parties, workers’ unions and commuity groups – was shown up by the breakaway actions of the SWP and others. There can be no way that the Campaign can expect reasonable, honest people to get behind their movement when they have absolutely no control over the direction and behaviour of these marches. As usual, the Socialist Workers Party have acted in their own bull-headed fashion and will bring nothing but distrust to the campaign. When I arrived at Parnell Square, the usual SWP hustlers told me to sign up and join their party. I said no, of course. They thought it was some sort of betrayal that I should be at the protest and not sign up to their ranks. I carefully explained that if I chose to join the protest, it was because I disagree with the current government’s actions, not because I prefer their half-baked reactionary nonsense. The SWP are the last people in this country that I would trust if they ever got even a sniff of paliamentary power. I wouldn’t trust their band of ignorant, aggressive thugs to look after my sock drawer. A group that have spent years trying to get disaffected youths at the Central Bank to sign up to their party out of naive anger is not a party worth my respect. Of course they’ll turn up at a protest for anything. Give them a ring and see if they’ll campaign for better weather and they’ll do it. It’s standard behaviour for small opposition parties like themselves and Sinn Féin to build up grass roots support by appearing to give a damn about every little issue that comes up in local communities. But only the most foolish and desperate people would think that their support for these causes and general righteousness would last any length of time beyond polling day if they were successful.
The longer these militant know-nothings continue to act as a parasite to those who support a genuine, progressive, liberal alternative to our government, the longer we will be left with a stale two-party system where the majority vote between the right-wing, conservative options presented by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Their actions on Tuesday evening compromised the ideals and intentions of the vast majority of those marching. The majority who stood in the freezing cold and heavy rain and marched to the Dáil without screaming obscenities which, though inoffensive to most, would alienate others from the march, particularly those with children. The SWP’s disregard for the rest of the Right To Work Campaign has left their integrity in tatters. They chose to ignore the original plan which was agreed between the group and the Gardaí. While some fella out of The Libertines was beginning the first speech on the lorry on Kildare Street, they chose to drown him out with their chants as they charged towards the Dáil. Seein two of the organisers standing on the lorry, looking dejected at the scuffle and arguing over who shold say what to restore order, the whole scene merely perpetuates the harsh reality that the left-wing opposition are a scattered group with no leadership, no clear plans and no moral or idealistic guidelines. The majority of the country might be horrified by the current government’s record but it’ll be a long, long way before they resort to supporting this kind of ragged mob of extremists who think that assaulting the Gardaí who accompanied their march quite pleasantly is “evoking the spirit of Greece” or any kind of progress.
More photos here.