John Lyons, People before Profit candidate for Dublin Bay North
Dawn raids by swarms of Gardai, press leaks of summonses to appear in court, charges of violent disorder, criminal damage and false imprisonment, potential sentences including life imprisonment: all as a result of a sit-down protest which delayed an Irish politician in her car for a couple of hours in the Jobstown area of Tallaght in November 2014.
What Is Going On Here?
The treatment of the Jobstown 27 is clearly an attack on peoples’ right to protest and to engage in civil disobedience and is an attempt to attack and discredit the Irish Water Movement and the Left, which combined are the single biggest threat to the Irish establishment and their way of life – riches and comfort for the elite, cutbacks and misery for the rest.
The decision by the Irish establishment – the political class, the police force, the judiciary – to use a minor incident that involved protestors delaying Joan Burton, Tánaiste, Labour Party leader, Minister for Social Protection and all-round champion of austerity, back on November 15 2014 is a true indication of their sheer desperation. A very similar incident involving the same politician occurred just one month previous to Jobstown but not one arrest was made. Why was this? What happened to make the state come down heavily upon one group of protestors in November 2014 and not on the other?
A New Movement hits the National Stage
The first six months of 2014 had witnessed a new of movement of opposition to the introduction of water charges and the installation of water meters as people in communities in Cork and then Dublin began blocking the installation of water meters; this grass roots activism soon spread to every part of the country as new anti-water charges groups sprang up inspired by examples of people power that spread speedily through Facebook.
Alongside this resistance a new campaign called Right2Water was initiated by People Before Profit and soon included Sinn Fein, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, several independent representatives and five trade unions, including Unite and Mandate, and it became the vehicle through which the new grass roots activism would explode onto the national stage and rock the political establishment to its core.
On 11 October over 100,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to express their opposition to the water charges and austerity more generally and thus “the people” became an active force in Irish politics. This mass demonstration of people power was quickly followed by a day of regional local protests on 1 November when close to 200,000 people filled their villages, towns and cities across the 26 counties. A new movement of people power and civil disobedience not witnessed before in Ireland was now firmly established as a political force.
Concessions and Coercion
In the face of such widespread resistance, Fine Gael and the Labour Party had no option but to retreat: concession after concession was made – the threat to cut-off peoples’ water was removed, the costs per household were reduced, capped and the period for the assessed charge extended from nine months to three years; a bribe was dangled too – a free €100 via a conservation grant if people would please just register and begin paying their water charge bill.
None of this worked: the numbers that took to the streets in rejection of the Government concessions and bribes was truly inspiring: on a bitterly cold working day on December 10 , just two weeks before Christmas, 80,000 people marched through Dublin on the third Right2Water national demonstration in just two and a half months.
The Government’s legitimacy in shreds, its privatisation plans for our water services in ribbons, their mandate to govern lost, Fine Gael and Labour, alongside their attempts buy people off, resorted to coercion, desperately relying on the Gardai and the courts to spy upon, arrest and charge those people who dared to declare that there are alternatives to austerity and who actively go about fighting for a better future.
With leaks to the press of summonses and dawn raids and arrests timed to coincide with the Right2Water December 2014 and March 2015 demonstrations, it was quite clear the actions of the Gardai and the DPP were attempts to spin a negative around the joyous resistance that thousands of people and families had been actively engaging in.
Of those arrested and forced to appear in court, seven are children under 18, the youngest aged just 14, three are the Anti-Austerity Alliance’s TD for Dublin South-West Paul Murphy, along with Councillors Kieran Mahon and Mick Murphy who, with 17 others, face very serious charges.
Speaking to Socialist Worker, Paul Murphy TD is adamant about what lies behind the arrests and charges:
“This repression is not an action taken by the state from a position of strength, but from weakness. They are seeing the political parties of the establishment significantly undermined, at the same time as a majority are engaging in civil disobedience through the mass boycott of the water charges. This is a desperate attempt to send a strong message and scare people off from protesting. The false imprisonment charge represents an attempt to outlaw sit-down protests and criminalise civil disobedience. It is an attack on the anti-water charges movement as a whole and on basic democratic rights. It should be met by a united and determined defence of the right to protest by all sections of the anti-water charges movement.”
All Out of January 23
With eighteen of the Jobstown 27 appearing in the Circuit Court on January 22 to face what Murphy rightly describes as “the most serious charges to be brought against protesters in the last number of decades”, it is vitally important that the Irish Water Movement responds and makes the National Day of protests on Saturday 23 January a major demonstration of not only the movement’s strength – the boycott of the water charge bills currently standing at just over 50% – but an expression of support and solidarity for all those facing persecution defending their right to protest.