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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 22 November, 2019
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IN IMAGES: A brief history of the Irish protest

This ain’t our first rodeo.

AT LEAST 90 separate marches are set to take place against water charges today, including 20 in Dublin, with overall participation expected to top 100,000.

But how might they compare with some of the most significant protests and street marches in recent Irish history?

To put today’s events in context, here’s a brief rundown of SOME of the biggest and most important demonstrations of the last few decades:

1.  ’The largest peaceful protest in post war Europe’

UFP00004-web Workers throng the streets of Dublin in January, 1980 Source: George McClafferty/LUCD Urban Folklore Project via UCD

The PAYE protests of 1979/80 have faded from the collective memory somewhat, which is strange, because they were truly momentous.

This RTÉ news report from the March 20, 1979 protest, said the streets of the capital hadn’t seen so many people since the 1913 Lockout or 1932 Eucharistic Congress.

On 22 January the following year, some 700,000 workers took part in a general strike, and 300,000 marched through Dublin.

To put those numbers in perspective, the population in Ireland aged 15 and older at the time was 2.34 million, meaning more than 10% of them converged on the capital that day.

At the time, the BBC called it “the largest peaceful protest in post war Europe.”

2. The long and winding road

And now for something completely different.

On 6 March 2011, sports journalist Diarmuid O’Flynn and a group of residents marched through a small village in Co Cork.

They weren’t taking on potholes, or looking for funding for the local GAA club.

Their target was nothing less than the €31 billion ECB promissory note bonds issued the previous year.

The “Ballyhea Says No! To Bondholder Bailout” campaign has walked through Ballyhea and Charleville every week since, spread to other towns like Ratoath, and arrived at the government’s doorstep in Dublin.

In May, O’Flynn ran for MEP in the South constituency, getting more than 30,000 first preference votes, but narrowly falling short of election, on the 10th of 12 counts.

3. The Silver Revolution

Age Action Protests Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

In the Budget of October 2008, the Fianna Fáil-led government announced an end to the automatic entitlement of all over-70s to a medical card.

It was an explosively unpopular austerity measure in an already tumultuous year for Ireland.

In the ensuing days, Wicklow TD Joe Behan resigned from Fianna Fáil in protest, and Independent deputy Finian McGrath withdrew his support from the government over the issue.

The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament rounded up what was dubbed “the Grey Army,” and on 22 October, 15,000 senior citizens were joined in Dublin by their supporters, including then-opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, as shown in this video.

Then Taoiseach Brian Cowen was forced into a climbdown on the policy, and introduced means testing, which meant only 5% of over-70s would lose their medical card entitlement.

4. ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’

NO TO WAR WITH IRAQ PEACE DEMOS IN IRELAND BANNERS PEOPLE Anti-war protesters on the streets of Dublin on 15 February, 2003 Source: Gareth Chaney/Photocall Ireland!

On the same day, in dozens of countries and hundreds of cities throughout the entire world, people united to oppose the looming British and American invasion of Iraq.

That day was Saturday, 15 February 2003, and the event in Dublin attracted around 100,000 anti-war protesters from all corners of the island.

The march began at the Garden of Remembrance, stopping at the Department of Foreign Affairs on St Stephen’s Green, and circling back to Dame Street.

There, thousands thronged in front of a stage for speeches and a concert involving future president Michael D Higgins, future TD and then chair of the Irish Anti-War Movement Richard Boyd Barrett, as well as Shane MacGowan.

5. Corrib minefield

Guards_force_digger_through_crowd Source: Wikipedia Commons

It’s been nine years since the arrest of the Rossport Five – Willie Corduff, Micheál Ó’Seighin, James Brendan Philbin and Philip and Vincent McGrath.

They had broken Shell’s High Court injunction ordering them not to block construction of the pipe line to the Corrib Gas field off the west coast of Ireland, but became symbols of the wider movement against the project.

Rossport Corrib Gas Pipeline Controversy Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Their three-month imprisonment sparked protests throughout the country which involved the environmental movement, as well as local representatives like Fine Gael TD Michael Ring.

The protests continue, with Garda policing of the sites provoking fierce criticism over the last decade, and recent calls for an independent public inquiry.

6. The Debt Knell of Austerity?

Ireland's financial woes Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

2009 and 2010 saw a series of protests across the country, as we attempted to come to terms with the shock of the crisis, the bailout of the banks, and the devastating austerity policies that followed.

The biggest of those demonstrations, however, came on Saturday, 27 November 2010 – when around 100,000 people marched in a miserable, freezing Dublin city centre, covered in sludgy snow.

They targeted the €85 billion bailout, the Fianna Fáil government’s four-year austerity plan, and the two Brians – Cowen and Lenihan.

Source: greenscribbler/YouTube

The marches were largely organised by the unions, but a hardline group splintered off from the main protest after it reached Leinster House, and set fire to posters of the Taoiseach.

Just three months later, Fianna Fáil and the Green party were decimated in the 2011 general election, and Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore became Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Read: More than 100,000 will turn up at water charge protests tomorrow, predicts TD>

Column: Athens is burning – so why are Ireland’s streets still quiet?>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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