Protest organisers to step up their campaign for water charges abolition

Garda put size of crowd at 30,000; organisers claim 100,000 attended

Harry McGee reports from the Water Protest at Merrion Square which has spread throughout Dublin. Video: Bryan O'Brien & Daniel O'Connor

 

Organisers of yesterday’s Right2Water protest demonstration, which caused considerable disruption in Dublin city centre, have pledged to step up their campaign in the New Year.

They claimed the size of the crowd had sent a clear message to the Government that water charges must be abolished.

However, the Government said it never regarded the rally or its size as an “acid” test of its strategy, and said no further concessions would be made.

The crowd was estimated at at 30,000-plus by the Garda, but this was disputed by organisers who claimed up to 100,000 were present. Estimating the number was more difficult than usual because of the way the protesters were spread out between the main rally and various satellite events

The five-hour rally at Merrion Square passed off peacefully, although there were some minor incidents and six people were arrested. Splinter groups held separate protests at the junction of Kildare Street and Nassau Street, and also on O’Connell Bridge and Butt Bridge, where protesters sat down to block traffic.

The cumulative effect of the rally and satellite demonstrations was widespread traffic disruption across the city centre for a number of hours.

In a statement Right2Water distanced itself from small groups involved in isolated incidents away from the main march. A Garda required stitches near his eye after being struck by a bottle on Kildare Street.

Richard Guiney, chief executive of DublinTown, a collective of 2,500 businesses in the city centre, estimated the cost of the protest in lost trade was €4-5 million. “A Wednesday at this time of the year would be the equivalent of a good Saturday at any other time of the year.” He estimated trade was down 35 per cent on O’Connell Street and 25 per cent on Henry Street.

The main political figures supporting the anti-charges campaign said the size of the protest would force the Government’s hand into reversing charges and abolishing Irish Water.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams praised the “people power” seen during the day, and said Irish Water and water charges should be scrapped.

Audience

The rally was addressed by more than a dozen representatives from Sinn Féin, smaller left-wing parties and Independent TDs.

Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy urged protesters to accelerate a campaign of non-payment of water charges when the first bills arrive in February.

Richard Boyd Barrett, the People Before Profit Alliance TD, told the crowd it was important to sustain the momentum after the protest. He urged people to attend the next national protest announced for January 31st.

Government sources said there was evidence households were beginning to sign up to Irish Water in significant number, with 900,000 having done so. Several Government backbenchers also pointed to the composition of the crowd, many of whom were evidently supporters of Sinn Féin and left-wing parties.

They said the rally did not have the same degree of support from across society as a previous protest in October.