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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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Thirsty for a revolution? No ... we're not, insist Raheny's elderly residents

Residents of Tonlegee Drive aren’t huge fans of water charges. But they’re not too keen on the people protesting the charges either, as TheJournal.ie discovered…

WATER PROTESTS IN the Dubin 5 area have been in the news sporadically in recent weeks.

An initial demonstration hit the headlines in late April when a small group of protesters from anti-austerity group ‘Dublin Says No’ picketed a house on Watermill Drive, Raheny.

Further demonstrations have also been taking place in the wider area — including Donaghmede, Raheny’s Grange Road, Edenmore Crescent and at Briarfield in Kilbarrack.

Along with the DSN activists, members of People Before Profit, Sinn Féin, Éirigí and other groups have been involved in the demonstrations.

In some cases, householders have requested the help of the campaigners — and their neighbours have turned out to support the actions.

In others, locals have complained about their presence  — and asked that they leave their area.

 A demo at Briarfield in Kilbarrack in April [Dublin Says No/Facebook] 

The anti-water meters protests were back in the headlines this week — as a result of chaotic scenes at Tonlegee Drive in Raheny, where a wheelchair-user was hospitalised after an incident that took place in the course of a demonstration.

Campaigners with DSN were also accused of threatening and “thuggish” behaviour when they picketed the Taoiseach’s appearance at a nearby elderly care centre.

[Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland]

Derek Byrne, from Donaghmede, one of the main organisers of the DSN campaign, has rejected the accusations of inappropriate behaviour — insisting nurses and patients were happy to see them at the event at St Joseph’s Hospital.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie on Tonlegee Drive yesterday, he also defended the group’s tactics of actively interfering with metering work.

A series of videos posted online by Byrne show harried-looking contractors being taunted by demonstrators for prolonged periods (the workers have clearly been instructed by higher-ups not to react). Amongst the many clips, there’s also footage of Byrne repeatedly stepping on a shovel as a frustrated worker attempts to dig the pavement.

And while he was satisfied that his group appeared to have secured a temporary victory on the road, with work halted for the time-being, he said that if the workers came back they’d “literally be lynched”.

Derek Byrne of ‘Dublin Says No’ [Pic: Daragh Brophy]

Residents’ views

A quick canvass of the road as locals took the sun in their gardens and came out to collect their bins provided a very different interpretation of the week’s events, however.

Elderly residents spoke of an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the area, with most expressing a desire for the protesters to leave the scene and let the metering work take place.

A member of the local residents’ association committee said she was “absolutely disgusted” by their presence and that locals were “definitely not happy” with the demonstrators’ actions.

“They’re making a disgrace of the place,” she said.

While some residents said they didn’t mind the group being there — many others complained of loud, unruly behaviour, “too much roaring and shouting” and traffic disruption along the quiet residential road, where the overwhelming majority of home-owners are aged in their 70s and 80s.

“They’re not from the area. We don’t know who these people are,” the woman from residents’ association said.

“There’s no-one from the street supporting them, and there’s been huge disruption as a result. The bus couldn’t get down here yesterday because all this was going on — and some of us have trouble walking and getting about.

“We’re afraid,” she added. “We’re don’t know who’s hanging around or what they’re doing.”

I saw a sign saying ‘thirsty for a revolution’ … We’re not.

The vast majority of residents who spoke said that — with the exception of one man, whose parents own a house on the road — no-one from Tonlegee Drive had turned out to stand with the protesters.

Tonlegee Drive, Raheny 

Reports of just how many activists are involved in the ongoing actions differ — but most suggest the numbers only ever swell to about thirty at the maximum.

In general, what happens is that a small number of organisers keep an eye on locations where they know contractors are active.

When they begin work, reinforcements are called in.

What happened this week…

As a result of the presence of the protesters, installations have been sporadic on Tonlegee Drive for almost three weeks — but Irish Water insist work had to take place on Thursday, due to a risk of flooding.

Supply had been cut off to three homes 48 hours earlier to allow for meter-installation work to take place.

That didn’t go ahead (because of the demonstrators, Irish Water say) and on Tuesday evening the protest group called in local plumbers to bypass the piping installed by the contractors and reconnect supply.

A spokesperson for Irish Water said immediate remedial work was necessary by Thursday, as the whole road could have been flooded if the temporary plumbing job wasn’t fixed.

But there were accusations of political policing from the protesters as six gardaí stood behind work cordons to support the contractors carrying out that repair job.

The demonstrators (and there were about 25-30 present on Thursday) contend they weren’t just fixing the problem, but surreptitiously installing metering equipment too.

Claims

Irish Water have accused those staging the actions of engaging regularly in intimidatory behaviour.

In turn, the protesters contend that the contractors carrying out the work have breached a wide range of health and safety rules.

The semi-state body said in a statement to this website that “robust safety criteria” were always observed, and that regular audits took place to make sure that remained the case.

Meanwhile, gardaí are co-operating with a Health & Safety Authority investigation taking place into what a HSA spokesperson described as the “suspected workplace accident” involving the wheelchair-using DSN protester.

[John Lyons]

The contractors weren’t at the scene yesterday — and the pavement sites where they had been working, along a small number of houses on one side of the road, are now covered over temporarily with tarmac.

Based on their experience elsewhere, the protesters say they don’t expect to see the workers back any time soon.

What happens now?

An elderly resident from one of those houses who spoke to TheJournal.ie said that while he was “generally neutral” on the issue of water charges, on the balance of things, he’d rather have the meter installed than be hit with an “assessed charge” bill.

Questioned on the subject, John Lyons, a People Before Profit councillor for the area, who has also been leading the water demonstrations, said that in such cases he’d be happy to recommend the protesters stand aside.

Byrne, from DSN, also maintained that was the practice, saying “We’ve done it. If the resident comes out and wants it in, they can have the meter”.

A number of residents, however, said demonstrators were refusing to leave the pavement outside houses when asked.

“You must be joking,” the residents’ association committee member said at the suggestion, adding that one woman who made a request of the group this week “got a not-very-nice response”.

Lyons stressed the importance of dialogue with residents, and said he was keen for the issue to be handled democratically.

He also insisted that a number of locals had voiced their support for the ongoing action.

It’s not as if there’s no local involvement, of course there is.

(Youtube: TheJournal.ie)

Whatever victories the protesters claim in the next weeks and months — in all likelihood they can never be anything more than fleeting.

While Lyons spoke of a “fatalism” among people in the area, those who live on the road insisted they were “just being realistic”.

Indeed, even the local Sinn Féin councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha, who opposes the Government’s water charges plan, has said the actions can only ever be “token”.

In the meantime, the general consensus on Tonlegee Drive seems to be that the residents want their road back — and that while they may not like paying more taxes, they want their meters installed too.

Not without sympathy for their situation, Byrne conceded “it’s not nice for them to have groups of people congregating out on the road”.

“It’s good for them that we can finally pull out.”

He added:

But if the contractors come back, we’ll come back.

Read: From a trickle… Water protests now springing up all over Dublin 5 

Read: Gardaí called in to support Irish Water contractors at Raheny protest

Read: One arrested as angry protesters confront Taoiseach at elderly-care centre

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