Man charged after Dublin anti-water charges protest

Thousands march in protests across the country ahead of Irish Water deadline

Saturday’s water charges demonstration has brought parts of Dublin to a standstill as protesters converge on the GPO. Video: Daniel O'Connor

 

A man arrested and charged following an anti-water charge protest in Dublin yesterday afternoon has been released.

The arrest occurred after a group of several hundred anti-water charge protesters broke away from a peaceful march in central Dublin and sought to gain entry to Leinster House.

The man in his 40s was questioned at Irishtown Garda station. He is due in court on February 26th.

This was the only arrest during more than 20 anti-water charge protests around the country on Saturday, including events in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.

The demonstration in Dublin caused disruptions and led to traffic diversions around O’Connell Street and the Liffey quays as buses and Luas traffic were curtailed and roads closed to traffic.

There were reports of a flare being fired and some pushing and shoving in Dublin, but gardaí outside Leinster House said they were happy with how the demonstration proceeded.

“There was a feeble attempt to pull open the gates but there was no great assault on the place. There was a flare but there was no major incident,” a source said.

According to garda sources, a man with a camera who had climbed on top of the Dáil gates for a panoramic view of the demonstration slipped and fell inside the railings but was not believed to have been badly hurt.

Estimates of the number of protesters vary, with organisers of the Dublin protests claiming around 20,000 people attended, while gardaí at the scene said the number was less than half that. The Garda press office declined to give an estimate.

Protesters had assembled at various locations around Dublin city including Christ Church Cathedral, Rialto and Connolly and Heuston stations, before marching along the quays and converging on O’Connell Street from 3pm.

The crowds were addressed by various non-political anti-water charges activists, including one young man who reiterated claims made by Derek Byrne of the Dublin Says No campaign group that President Michael D Higgins was a “parasite”, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the rest of the political establishment.

Several protesters sported “Je suis Derek” signs, with Greek flags also in evidence following anti-austerity party Syriza’s election victory last weekend.

It was one of a number of protests which took place across the country yesterday.

In Cork, an estimated crowd of about 3,500 took to the streets, and similar demonstrations were held in Galway, Waterford and Sligo among other locations.

Protesters unfurled a 2.5 metre flag saying “We won’t pay” above the 13th century King John’s Castle during a march which was held in Limerick earlier.

Local groups

The marches were organised by local groups, as opposed to last December’s gathering outside Government buildings which was overseen by the Right2Water central organising committee and political parties such as the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit.

“I think it’s about the people, there shouldn’t be any political element,” said Siobhán Andrews (44) from Raheny who took part in the Dublin march.

“We’re not sure how we feel about politicians, because we’ve been let down by them a lot . . . Some of them have been supportive but, then again, we don’t know who to trust. If Sinn Féin or whoever gets in, how do we know they’re going to fix the problems?,” she added.

Arklow native Freddie Trevaskis Hoskin disagreed that a chasm is opening up between anti-Government politicians and grassroots protest movements.

“I think that’s a bit of a false dichotomy. I think people are out on the streets on a political issue, on an issue that affects them,” said 21-year-old Trevaskis Hoskin.

“It might not be a politics with a capital P, it might not be high political theory, but it’s actual, on-the-ground politics, which is far more important,” he added.

Following today’s marches, another major protest is being planned for Dublin in March.

‘People are angry’

Meanwhile, Derek Byrne, the water protester who sparked controversy with his verbal assault on President Michael D Higgins, has refused to retract his description of the head of State being a “parasite”.

Mr Byrne, who took part in today’s protest in Dublin, said: “The people are angry and the people have every right to be angry in this country because the people of this country have been sold out by the so called political leaders,” he told RTÉ radio.

However, he refused to express any contrition for his abuse of the President at a recent protest which saw a visibly angry crowd lock horns with gardaí after his entourage had left.

“As I said, it was regrettable that he was called a ‘midget’,” Mr Byrne said of his own language.

“But I stand by everything else because at the end of the day President Higgins was a man I voted for and was someone that was very outspoken on human rights issues. We have a very serious human rights issue going on in this country at this moment in time and President Higgins has not spoken out for the people.”

The Right2Water campaign, which spearheaded the mass rally in Dublin late last year attended by more than 100,000 people, had urged members of the public to attend the latest protests. However, it distanced itself from the organisers.

In a statement, the campaign said: “The campaign against these unjust water charges continues. Last year, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all over the country, and wrung significant concessions from the Government.

“But as we said at the time - people marched for abolition, not concessions.”

Additional reporting: Agencies