'Occupy' supporters hold protest over camp removal


About 70 Occupy Dame street campaigners, whose camp outside the Central Bank was dismantled by gardaí in the early hours of the morning, took part in a protest outside Pearse Street Garda station this evening.

There were angry scenes between protesters and gardaí outside the Dublin city-centre station but the protesters disbanded shortly before 9pm.

One woman, who claims to have been pushed by gardaí, was treated by an ambulance crew at the scene while one man appeared to have sustained a cut to the head. A Garda spokesman had no comment on the claims.

The protesters, some wearing Irish flags, others carrying signs, chanted “whose streets, our streets” and “We are the 99 per cent” and engaged in sit-down protests near the garda station. Some streets close to the station were closed as the protest took place.

Three members of the group - Steven Bennett, Saoirse Bennet and Liam Mac an Bháird - entered the Garda station to negotiate the return of the protesters' belongings.

The Occupy Dame Street encampment was established last October as part of the global anti-capitalist 'Occupy' movement.

Gardaí moved in on the camp at 3.30am and dismantled and removed a number of structures and tents on the site as protesters were held back.

As many as 100 gardaí were involved in the operation, and Dame Street was cordoned off from Trinity College to George's Street. The area was cleared and then cleaned by council workers.

While a small handful of protesters remained after this morning’s eviction, numbers swelled to more than a dozen following a message to reorganise sent out by social media.

At around noon, protesters hurriedly attempted to set up a tent on the site of the former encampment despite the garda presence.

Within moments, additional gardaí were called in and two protestors were forcibly removed from the tent. No arrests were made and the tent was taken to a nearby garda vehicle.

A general assembly meeting was set for 6 pm tonight on the site of the former camp, an organiser of the Occupy movement said.

“They may have destroyed the camp, but they haven’t destroyed the movement,” said Steven Bennett.

“It appears the guards used the power of the Housing Act 2002 which allows them to remove temporary residences. An obvious solution to that is having a camp that is not actually a residence, if we can maintain it in shifts,” he added.

Occupiers will be also meeting with legal representatives later today to assess how to best move forward.

A garda spokesman said the force was obliged to move the camp for health and safety to ahead of the St Patrick's Day parade, but it “remains to be seen what happens in the future”.

A spokeswoman for the Central Bank confirmed it had asked Gardaí to move the campaigners.

“Following serious health and safety and public order concerns raised with the bank by an Garda Síochána, notably in relation to the forthcoming St Patrick’s Day events, the bank confirms that it requested the Garda to peacefully remove the occupiers and the encampment from the Central Bank plaza.”

She added the bank will “continue to take whatever advice is forthcoming from the garda in terms of the continued safe use of the plaza.”

Jim McLean, who was sleeping in the camp this morning, said he heard loud banging outside his shack and when he got up to check there were “guards everywhere ripping the shacks apart”.

Mr McClean said the 10 protesters in the camp at the time received no warning it was to be dismantled. He said protesters “resisted peacefully” and when gardaí were questioned on the legality of the move they produced a printout of the 2002 Housing Act.

Mr McClean said public records from every meeting held at the camp including contact details of people who had supported the occupy movement were also removed by gardaí. Local traders welcomed the camp’s dismantling saying it had kept business from the area.

“I’m quite happy to see the back of them and hopefully they’ll stay away,” said Alan Cooke, owner of John J Cooke silversmiths, on Fownes Street. “This camp has basically kept people out of the area, before they were walking across the plaza down this street. The tourists of course were just avoiding it. Would you blame them?”

Omar Darouiche of Dublin Citi hotel said while people have a right to complain and to demonstrate “we need to arrive at a middle point where they don’t damage the city, damage the tourism”.

Earlier this week the Occupy Dame Street movement said it would continue its protest despite a request by gardaí on February 28th to remove the camp.

Protesters said they had offered to surround the camp with metal fencing for the duration of the parade to ensure “the health and safety of both the public and camp members to the best of its ability”.

They also said they were in negotiation with the Dublin city fire service to ensure the camp was fire-safety compliant.

The chair of the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee, Councillor Gerry Breen, congratulated the Garda authorities for " the safe clearing of the Occupy Dame Street camp".

”The gardai would be the first to get it in the neck if there was any injuries to the 500,000 spectators who visit Dublin City Centre on St Patrick’s Day," Mr Breen said.

"The Central Bank acts as a safety value for Dame Street in the event of needing to evacuate large numbers off Dame Street into Temple Bar on St Patrick’s Day. The gardaí also have to give permission for the event from a safety point of view."