Vigil expertly stage-managed but perhaps overproduced
The event may have been a masterclass in how to stage a demonstration, but it lacked spontaneity
Wow! Now that’s the way to organise a vigil.
Saturday evening in Dublin delivered a masterclass in how to stage a demonstration.
The “Unite for Life” vigil was stunning in its planning and execution. It left all other such events – and there has been no shortage of rallies around Merrion Square down through the years – in the shade.
The farmers, the students, the teachers, the anti-war protesters, the squeezed taxpayers, the angry pensioners, the anti-austerity marchers . . . this production relegated them to the ha’penny place.
But some things never change. There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and the gross overestimation of crowd turnout by protest organisers.
Eoghan de Faoite of Youth Defence, who was MC for the proceedings, informed the cheering masses that the gardaí had just told them 25,000 people were in attendance. By the end of the rally, that figure – according to one speaker – had risen to 30,000.
The organisers of the recent vigil for Savita Halappanavar were similarly generous with their figures. Saturday’s crowd was roughly similar in size. In the ratings PR battle for turnout, the honours are even.
But 25,000? It was reported everywhere. Garda numbers, apparently. Were they at the same gig?
We walked the course. It was an impressive crowd – stretching the length of one side of Merrion Square. But it didn’t go around the corner and traffic moved freely along the road at the far end.
There was a rock-concert atmosphere about the place before the vigil began. Hundreds of stewards marshalled the good-humoured crowd as music blared from the speakers. More than 100 free buses had been laid on around the country to take people to the vigil.
This wasn’t back-of-the-lorry territory. A proper stage had been erected, with a sound mixing desk next to it. A huge articulated truck, emblazoned with the livery of Horse Racing Ireland, was parked to one side. It carried a huge screen called a Jumbotron. This is usually seen at race courses so punters can follow the action from a distance. A second, slightly smaller Jumbotron had been set up midway down the street.
The concert vibe continued with the corral at the head of the crowd – a sort of anti- abortion mosh pit. This was disproportionately populated by young people. Political parties do this all the time. They like to push their photogenic youth in front of the cameras whenever possible.
A “sterile zone” ran along one side of the square, giving clear access to people who needed to move quickly through the crowd.
There seemed to be a hierarchy among the legions of high-vis vests. The main stewarding and security duties were done by men and women with “Frontline Security” and “Frontline Steward” on their bibs, some wearing microphones and earpieces, others carrying walkie-talkies. Then there were volunteers with “Sign the Pro-Life Pledge” written on the back of their vests. Others wore fluorescent vests with smiley faces on the front. Youth Defence members wore bright yellow hoodies bearing the message “Because Life is a Right, Not a Privilege”.