A crowd of between 30,000 to 40,000 people attended a protest outside Government Buildings in Dublin earlier today. Organisers estimated crowds of 70,000 to 100,000 attended the events while gardaí said it was in excess of 30,000.
The numbers who attended the water protest in Dublin city centre will eventually force the Government to reverse water charges, the leaders of the campaign have said.
The protest s wound down by this evening and traffic has eased around the city. O’Connell Bridge reopened at about 7.30pm after it was cleared by gardaí. Earlier some 300 lingering protesters blockaded sections of the north and south quays, O’Connell Street and the O’Connell Bridge .
Many evening commuters experienced major delays across the city centre as there was mass closure of roads and blockades. “Traffic has eased significantly in Dublin City centre,” AA Roadwatch tweeted shortly after 8pm.
Earlier in the evening gardaí sealed off Kildare St and all roads to the Dáil. As a result, protestors were sprawled around Nassau St, Merrion Sq, Baggot St and Dawson St among others.
Around 5.30pm, a stage erected on Merrion Sq where musicians and singers had been singing anti-water charge songs was wound down, and most of the remaining protestors migrated to the bottom of Kildare St where lines of gardíi were stationed.
There was a heavy Garda presence in the areas surrounding Kildare St, including some officers from the Mounted Support Unit, which is designed for high visibility crime prevention.
The protest was entirely peaceful in this area, apart from some verbal abuse directed at rank and file members of the Garda and sit down protests on the road which further disrupted traffic.
There were about six arrests for public order offences. Two of them were when protesters jumped over barriers at Molesworth St and Nassau St.
One Garda member was injured when a bottle thrown from a crowd struck him on the eye.
'Scrap water charges'
Senior gardaí said tens of thousands attended the protest and said the turnout was likely to be in excess of 30,000.
Protest organisers, the Right2Water campaign, estimated the number to be over 100,000 and said in a statement that the campaign would continue.
Addressing the crowd at Merrion Square, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams praised what he called "people power" and said Irish Water and water charges should be scrapped.
“What the Government has done is not good enough. The Government has to scrap water charges,” said Mr Adams.
Independent TD Clare Daly referred to the size of the crowd in her speech: “This is indeed what democracy looks like. We are living in a moment that changed Ireland. Irish Water is already dead. We are here to bury it.”
People Before Profit Cllr Bríd Smith urged members of the crowd to stay in Merrion Square and not to join a secondary protest that was assembling on O’Connell Street.
“There’s only one Right2Water demonstration today,” she said. Ms Smith called for a new State-wide protest in January.
Not content to let the politicians take centre-stage, a number of well known musicians also converged on Dublin’s Merrion Square to entertain the crowds attending the protest.
Oscar-winner and singer Glen Hansard didn’t just entertain. He also addressed the issue at hand.
“I’m not political, but the Irish nation has now been forced to be (political) and to come out on the streets,” said the Ballymun native .
“It feels like there are more and more screws being put on the people, to pay taxes for this, that and the other… I think there is a general sense of anger, a seething dissatisfaction and I’m just like anyone else,” he said.
Earlier the Government again ruled out further concessions on water charges, regardless of the turnout for today’s protest.
Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said the charges were necessary.
“I don’t envisage anything changing. This is completely necessary. I don’t envisage anything changing in relation to the package at all,” he said.
Mr Kelly again admitted the Coalition had made mistakes when setting up the utility company, telling reporters his predecessor Phil Hogan could have done a better job.
“Mistakes were made,” he said. “Do I think it could have been handled better by the minister who preceded me? Yes.”
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said after the troika left “the Government became quite arrogant quite, frankly. And we stopped listening.”
He said the result of the local elections were a wake-up for the Coalition but stressed there would be no more concessions on water charges.
To do so would be giving in to a minority, he said.
Labour Minister of State at the Department of Justice Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said water charges was one of the most challenging issues to confront the Cabinet.
“Some of the biggest disagreements that have taken place at Cabinet have been over water,” he said.
He said Mr Kelly has a “completely different approach” to communicating the issues around Irish Water than his predecessor Mr Hogan.
People travelled from across the State and gathered at Merrion Square for the 1pm demonstration.
Rione Kilcullen (45) a community worker from Mayo, said she took the day off work to attend the protest. “People have had enough of taking loads of crap quietly and getting on with it,” she said.
Marian Neff, a protester from Cork, said: “We sucked up everything they’ve thrown at us for six years but water is a human right. We believed in this Government, they’ve turned around the country supposedly, but water is a basic need. This will continue until they come to their senses.”