‘God must be a capitalist,’ says a disappointed man at G8 protest in Belfast
The scale of security seemed to dwarf the good-natured protest activities
He’s with his unaligned friend, Thomas McCourt, who isn’t beyond teasing. “Are those flags made locally, Dennis?” he says, pointing to the red banners. “I’d say the label says ‘Made in China or Turkey or Ethiopia’.” McCourt notes the massive police presence. “You can tell the English ones,” he says. “Their Land Rovers aren’t half as well-armoured as the Northern Irish ones.”
I still can’t see any need for that level of policing. There are, depending on who you ask, between 1,500 and 5,000 people here. There are older people, babies in buggies and even little dogs on leads. There isn’t a “black bloc” of anarchist ne’er-do-wells to be seen.
As the march sets off, it quickly becomes clear there are whole streets lined with stab-jacket-clad, big-booted and occasionally machine-gun-wielding policemen and women (some have video cameras). There are also rows of them waiting down sidestreets and convoys of armoured vehicles parked in readiness. Many have been brought in from Britain. It’s frightening (although later when I see a chuckling police woman take a photo of four face-pulling colleagues, it takes the menace away somewhat).
Kieran Allen, a UCD sociology lecturer and Socialist Workers Party member, tells me he thinks the huge concentration of police is a deliberate tactic designed to dampen protest. “It says, ‘We are the world leaders get down on your knees before us,’” he says. “It’s about intimidating people who want to protest.” He discussed this again at yesterday’s Counter-Summit run by People Before Profit, where he spoke alongside Laurie Penny and Richard Wilkinson.
None of the organisers I spoke to before or during the march anticipated any trouble. “Usually with G8, the big worry is ‘the black bloc’ [hardcore, black-clad anarchist activists] and the word we’re getting is that Northern Ireland is a bit too edgy for them,” Niall Bakewell of Friends of the Earth told me. “Yes, those radical anarchists are frightened by Northern Ireland.”
At Belfast City Hall, speakers from Ictu, Amnesty, G8 Not Welcome and other groups discuss the world leadership’s complicity in human rights violations, environmental disasters, privatisation and profiteering. They talk in global terms, but the protest is a largely local affair augmented with buses from around the island.
The right to protest is a liberating thing despite the low turnout, the level of policing and the mockery of cynics. “You can sit on the sofa and give out about everything wrong with the world but if you don’t do anything about it you’re complicit in your inaction,” says Aaron Callaghan, who’s here with an anti-fracking group from Donegal.
“Your lifestyle, your shopping habits, your job . . . If you want to make it a better world, you have to get involved.”