50,000 on streets to oppose cuts programme

 

GARDAÍ ESTIMATE that up to 50,000 people took part in the march and rally organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on Saturday in protest at the Government’s planned programme of austerity.

Gardaí reported no disturbances at the main protest, which unions say was attended by 100,000 people.

However, later on after the end of the main rally, there were scuffles on Kildare Street when a group of protesters marched on Dáil Éireann. During this incident glass bottles, fireworks and bangers were thrown at gardaí.

At the main rally at the GPO in O’Connell Street, speakers strongly criticised the Government’s four-year plan for economic recovery.

The general secretary of congress, David Begg, said the country could not afford to pay the terms of the proposed €85 billion EU-IMF bailout package.

Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, who was the master of ceremonies at the rally, led the crowd in a minute’s chant of “Out, Out, Out” to the Government.

Congress president Jack O’Connor said the aim of the rally was to object to the insistence of a Government with no mandate “to draw up a plan and sign an agreement in our name which will decide the future of one or two generations of our people”.

While speaking on the platform, Siobhán O’Donoghue of the Community Platform tore up a copy of the Government’s four-year plan.

During their addresses, Mr O’Connor and Mr Begg were heckled and booed by sections of the crowd.

At around 2.15pm, just as crowds began to disperse from the Congress rally on O’Connell Street, a number of groups aligned to the new United Left Alliance began their own addresses from a stage at the O’Connell monument.

Speakers, including Joe Higgins MEP of the Socialist Party and councillor Louise Minihan of Éirigí, criticised union leaders and called for a series of national strikes. Mr Higgins said it was time the trade union movement was reclaimed.

“The leadership is not leading a serious fightback in opposition to this disaster. The union leaders are simply saying bring down the debt over a longer period of time.”

When this breakaway event concluded at 2.40pm some protesters, numbering around 250, decided to march to the Dáil. These mostly comprised people who had congregated at the back of the main rally with left-wing groups.

As the protesters walked to the Dáil, they were followed by a number of Garda vans carrying uniformed gardaí and members of the public order unit in riot gear.

When the crowd reached the Dáil, they were met by a group of around 60 uniformed gardaí who were standing at specially erected crowd-control barriers at the entrance to Leinster House.

A number of protesters threw paint bombs that hit the railings of Leinster House. Bangers, fireworks and glass bottles were also thrown at gardaí. One protester mingled in the crowd carrying a bag of empty glass bottles, having apparently brought them to the event to throw at gardaí.

After about 30 minutes, a group of uniformed gardaí walked in a line up Molesworth Street, effectively segregating some of the protesters from their colleagues who were outside Leinster House.

Members of the Public Order Unit on horseback then appeared on Molesworth Street, along with the dog unit.

However, while intended as a show of strength to deter any effort to break through the garda line and occupy Leinster House, the horses and dogs were not deployed.

At about 3.30pm, after almost an hour of protesting, the large number of uniformed gardaí walked into the protesters.

This had the effect of easing the tension in the crowd and most of the protesters had dispersed by 4pm, by which time gardaí began to leave the area. There was one arrest.

It was not clear what groups, if any, were behind the unofficial protest. However, a number of people who had previously attended Éirigí protests were present. There was also a small number of young men wearing jackets and hats with badges from the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.