From the rivers to the sea communities all over Ireland are mobilising, organising and getting off their barstools and onto the streets thanks to the quango that is Irish Water. Seamus L. Moore chatted to those at the heart of the uprising.
5.45AM Stoneybatter, it’s pitch black out and below freezing, 30 local activists haul their asses out of bed and make their way up to their meeting point on Manor St to plan for the mornings blockades. This determined bunch are on the early shift and will be replaced by others who’ll pick up the slack later.
Local businesses and residents frequently drop down tea, coffee, soup and sandwiches. There is a steady stream of cars beeping their horns in support as they on drive by.
The solidarity and community involvement takes the bite out of the bitter cold mornings. This is a familiar scene that has been happening in communities all over Ireland since the installation of water meters began.
The demonisation of concerned local residents as dissident republicans and a violent “sinister fringe” has not worked, nor has a campaign of character smears against elected representatives involved in the campaign.
The documented violence and intimidation by masked Irish Water security guards has made residents even more resolved to continue. Even the extravagant and wasteful dawn raids on activists involved in the peaceful sit-down protests outside Joan Burtons car just further empowered the movement.
Public reacted with contempt to the jailing of four activists for peacefully protesting against the installation of water meters rather than giving into fear and obedience.
Sarah Hill from Stoneybatter Against the Water Tax explains:
“The government themselves are doing a wonderful job of messing up! They have vilified themselves in ridiculous sometimes comical ways”.
The campaign is as strong as ever with up to 80,000 people turning out for the fourth demonstration since October. Why has the resistance to this tax continued to attract such sustained resistance and fostered such ridicule in the establishment where other movements have failed?
The Labour Party was last involved in a coalition government in 1997. Labour have traditionally occupied the role of the left wing alternative in mainstream politics, partially due to the legacy of James Connolly and their relationship with the largest trade union in the country SIPTU.
Labour is instrumental in implementing austerity, Frankfurt style. This has resulted in a complete disillusionment with mainstream politics. If Labour and its (what Pat Rabbitte might call useless “tits on a bull”) rhetoric are not going to fight for the working stiff, then who will?
“I never had high expectations but I am now disgusted and angry at the system. I have never engaged with politics until now because I felt it made no difference. I will continue to question our political representatives and will make an effort to support the few who inspire trust in me”.
Cue the formation and mobilisation of multiple local groups on a scale not seen since the Land League.
Rosi Leonard from Dublin’s Broadstone against the Water Tax explains:
“The word contempt is thrown about a lot but how else can you describe the attitude of politicians when the people they rely on at the ballot boxes are the first they are willing to throw away? How else can you justify calling ordinary people part of a “sinister fringe” or “terrorists” for protesting? The way politicians have so flatly demonised protest goes to show how little they care for the actual processes of democracy”.
This demonisation of the protesters is a response by disconnected establishment, afraid of the people they are meant to represent. The dangers of “mob rule”, “anarchy” (misused) and strangely enough, “fascism” have been levelled against activists all over the country. Then there’s the sneering by mobile phone expert Joan Burton.
“The reason so much political smearing has been levelled against us is because the movement itself is so simple, and that’s dangerous to the establishment. All it takes is neighbours helping each other, it’s as grassroots as it gets, I have been living in this area for over fifteen years years and I’d never met most of the people I ended up protesting beside”.
Alan Gibson from Cobh Says no to Austerity outlines the reason why these protests have attracted so many people never before involved in activism:
“It is a combination of the straw that broke the camels back in terms of the apparently never-ending austerity for working people along with some degree of seeing the issue of water as something special that shouldn’t be touched”.
Figures from Eurostat show that the Irish will pay for 42% of the banking crisis, or €9000 per person (not including the €18 billion raided from the National Pension Reserve Fund), while the E.U. average is €192. The government, well versed in the numbers game chooses not to listen.
This is instead sidetracked into demonisation and their insistence that water has to be paid for somehow (which it already is) and de-contextualising it from the rest of the austerity agenda.
As the Rubberbandits put it so succinctly, “The Irish Water Protests are as much about water as the Boston Tea Party was about Tea”.
The establishment has its cheerleaders in the mainstream media, yet the power wielded by these traditional gatekeepers of information is wilting as people move online to suss things out. Social media has broken the gates open, the public is not as reliant traditional media as it once was.
Combine this democratisation of news making with an emerging disillusionment in top down politics and what you get a movement which is something the establishment don’t know quite what to do with.
From small town demonstrations to St.Patrick’s Day parades, from massive Dublin protests to Facebook memes the issue of Irish Water has created the unholy trinity of Enda, Joan and Denis.
“Enda Kenny, not a penny!”, “Hide yer phone, here comes Joan” and something probably libelous about Denis O’Brien’s hole are unifying chants. Hundreds of videos on YouTube and Facebook appear every month and people laugh over them in pubs across the country. Suddenly someone in Rialto has common bond with someone in Roscommon. The rules of the game are changing.
Confused in this emerging grassroots movement, the mainstream media try to pluck out a leader and try to vilify them.
The attacks on Paul Murphy as a “Champagne Socialist” are a testament to this. The implication being that one who attends private school should not have a social conscience are quite telling, of course this low level guff should be expected from a newspaper that is 29% owned by Denis O’Brien. This is the man who is the leading stakeholder in GMC Sierra.
This is the man who was named twice in a report where Ireland slipped a record 11 places down Transparency International’s Worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index.
You have probably heard of him, no?
“Ah yes, the tax exile with a terrible haircut.” Yep that guy.
Now it is altogether quite another thing to expect the same bias from the state broadcaster (i.e an organisation with a mandate to “inform, educate and entertain” its citizens).
The choice of where they throw their incompetent gaze says it all. RTE refused to cover a peaceful candlelight vigil outside Coolock Gardai Station by hundreds of the “Pink Ladies”. They will attempt to secretly film protesters in Stoneybatter in the hope of getting some dirt (which they didn’t) and comically get caught in the process. And of course, Ryan Tubridy’s awkward and failed attack on Paul Murphy has become something of a Youtube classic in politically biased broadcasting.
Now if low production values, “Fair City” and Joe Duffy’s “Funny Friday” weren’t already enough to get people out marching on the streets of Donnybrook then surely RTE’s coverage of the Irish Water fiasco was the final insult. The protest on RTE’s headquarters showed that people will simply not stand for this.
As Rosi from Broadstone describes “every tiny action builds solidarity, people now see that they have power to control the conditions of their lives, and that they shouldn’t second guess themselves if someone tries to question it”.
Photos by Jamie Goldrick