Organisers of Saturday’s anti-water charges march said the protest focus must now translate into mass non-payment of bills to provide the next government with a mandate for their abolition.
Organisers estimated 10,000 people – unofficial estimates placed the number at half this amount – marched from the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square to Leinster House where those refusing to pay were invited to dispose of their first bills in an awaiting, highly symbolic, dustbin.
“This demonstration is really to coincide with the bills being delivered. It probably would have been bigger if most of them had arrived but very few of them have,” said People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barret.
The rally incorporated the usual mix of colourful banners and marching chants that have come to be the focal point of the nationwide campaign. Its momentum does not appear to have faltered and organisers on the political left now hope general feelings of opposition will translate into a more determined refusal to pay.
Whatever the actual turnout (gardaí were unable to provide an estimate) People Before Profit councillor John Lyons told those assembled at the final stage on Molesworth Street, opposite the Dail, that the scale of the overall movement is unsurpassed.
“It’s the single biggest mass movement of people power in the history of the State,” he said, citing the turnout of more than half a million people in the last six months.
The march wound its way from Parnell Square, down the south quays to Parliament Street, past City Hall and on toward Leinster House, emboldened by chants of “Whose water? Our water!” and “Back stab bailout, we got sold out!”
Some of the crowd enthusiastically binned their bills, in keeping with the demonstration’s slogan, reassured by promises they would later be destroyed.
“We have paid for our water not once, not twice but three times and if [the Government] are looking for money to bail out the bondholders take it out of their big fat paycheques,” said Dolores Webster from Dublin.
Derek Atkinson from Laytown, Co Meath, said he was convinced the levels of public resentment were on the verge of effecting Government policy. “I think it will be abolished. Enough people are sick and tired of it. Every day of the week there is another tax.”
Such powerful sentiment must now be transformed into action, according to Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger who implored the crowd to ignore their bills and organise ahead of the coming general election.
“Today’s protest is specifically to push the non-payment message,” she told The Irish Times.
“The only way we will get the charges abolished is through the massive non-payment of bills and convincing people who are somewhat in the middle not to pay.”
Saturday’s “Bin Your Bill” demonstration was the first under the banner of the “Non Payment Network”. Making the most of the fine weather, the capital’s streets were illuminated with giant banners and numerous Greek flags in support of an EU government as scathing of austerity as Ireland’s left.
While many present were simply frustrated tax-payers, the political dimension was underscored in a crowd-rousing speech from Socialist TD Paul Murphy, by now firmly at the centre of the movement.
“We have been paying for our water but over the last seven years we have paid €31 billion in austerity measures,” he said from the back of a flatbed truck on Molesworth Street.
Various taxes and the repayment of €8 billion to bondholders annually had delivered, he said, “not a recovery for the majority, not a recovery for the working people, but recovery for the rich and super rich”.
Expanding on the theme, he said Ireland’s wealthiest individuals have seen their holdings increase by 60 per cent over the course of the recession. “We demand a recovery for the majority,” he said.