Water protest: Coalition feels the worst has passed

View from the stage was dominated by SF flags, socialist groups and unions

Protesters at the anti-water charges protest at Merrion Square, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

Protesters at the anti-water charges protest at Merrion Square, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

By most measures, getting 30,000 to 40,000 people out on the streets on a cold Wednesday in December, when people are preparing for Christmas, is an achievement.

The water charges protest is due to last the rest of the evening, but the spinning about the size of the crowd has begun.

The organisers are claiming victory given the size of the crowd which snaked its way towards the Merrion Square side of Leinster House.

Those in Government are trying to shrug it off as not as big as the last protest, when well over 100,000 people marched in towns across the country on a Saturday last month.

“It is well down on the last day,” said one senior Coalition figure.

But holding December 10th up against November 2nd is like comparing apples and oranges. An afternoon protest on a Saturday is easier to attend.

However, what really spooked the Coalition about November 2nd was the composition of the crowds, rather than its accumulated size.

Fine Gael and Labour TDs looked at those marching up their main streets and saw middle-ground voters who would be their natural supporters.

On the surface, therein lies the difference with today. A walk around Merrion Square and its surrounding areas suggest that today’s protest is comprised mainly of Sinn Féin and groups of the left.

The view from the main stage was dominated by flags for the party, as well as for socialist groups and unions.

Sinn Féin put a huge effort in getting numbers to Dublin and organised buses from various constituencies. They’ve got the numbers they wanted.

Yet they may have been almost too successful. Gerry Adams’s speech had the air of an ard fheis address: it looked like he was talking to his own.

There is increased tension on the opposite side of Leinster House, with gardaí holding back a line of protestors from entering blocked off Kildare Street.

Hardline protestors are also springing up at traffic junctions across town – such as at Butt Bridge and O’Connell Bridge – and blocking traffic as people make their way home from work in rush hour.

While it is still early, those in Government are claiming they are more comfortable this evening as a result.

“Deep green alright,” said one on the Labour side of the crowds massed yards from Government Buildings.

“The middle ground lost interest after our colossal U-turn.”

A Fine Gaeler said while it is hard to judge the numbers, “there is a lot of Sinn Féin and hard left branding”.

“I’d be a bit less concerned than a month ago. Key will be enforcing people who don’t know.

“I don’t get any sense of momentum in the campaign though. It’ll be about registration and payment throughout 2015.”

A Fine Gael backbencher characterised the crowds and “won’t pays”.

The crowds are still outside Leinster House but the feeling across the Coalition is today could have been much worse.

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