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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Opinion: We have been sold out, we have been failed. That is why I'm marching today.

We deserve better and, today, people across the country will come together – dignified and defiant.

Fergal Anderson

I AM TRAVELLING from Co Galway to the demonstration in Dublin today. My partner and I work the fields, and don’t get to Dublin as much as we used to, but we’ll make an exception. Why? Because this march is about more than water. It’s become about something much bigger – about who we are, about how Ireland is governed.

The last months you could feel the energy building, the people moving. I don’t remember a time like this in my lifetime in this country, when there was a void so large between the politicians and the people. A time when we could watch each others actions and protests across the country, dignified, defiant. Together. We’ll be in Dublin in body, but in spirit every time there has been a water meter blocked, a politician challenged, we’ve also been there. The people are moving, and it’s like there’s no going back.

My village STILL has no mains water supply 

Our local village has no mains water. Back in the ’80s, when we were in primary school, it was always someones job to go and fetch water from the well and bring it back in buckets for us to drink. It was an envied job, a few minutes walk out of the classroom up the road, on a wee mission. Those days were 30 years ago. The village, a few pubs, a church, a school, some houses… still have no mains water supply. For 30 years, as helicopters soared overhead, and Dublin along with the rest of the country bubbled with money, the village was always left behind – it was too expensive, the funding wasn’t available. So some citizens of the State, by virtue of their geography, were forced to make do with wells and rainwater, pumps and buckets.

Water is primal, vital. It’s part of us, it’s what we’re made of. Access to water is a human right. And on Wednesday, we’re coming to Dublin not just to claim that right, but to claim something more. To lay at the doors of the Dail, our parliament, the bigger and graver charge: that they have failed, as every government has failed in my lifetime, to do what any proper sovereign government should do – act in the best interests of its people.

Our government is not alone. Across Europe, the world, we are seeing the same thing happen. For the first time we’ve been able to watch in real time people like us – in the streets of Athens, in Madrid, in Cairo. In Ferguson, in Hong Kong, Reykjavik, New York. In Mexico City.

They said we were at their mercy, and our governments paid

The issues are not always the same, but the root is: governments which are failing their people. In Europe the story in retrospect seems simpler – that when the gamblers who were speculating on the world’s economy, on people’s livelihoods, who made billions, trillions – finally began to see their last wild bets were not going to come through – they turned to the states, the sovereign states and said ‘Sorry, but we’re not going to take a hit on this’. And so the governments paid. Paid in jobs, paid in livelihoods disappearing. Paid in taxes, paid in cutbacks. Paid and paid again. It was a shock – we were warned of “fiscal cliffs”, of banks being “too big to fail” – we all suddenly knew about ratings agencies, about financial capital flight, vulture funds. They said we were at their mercy. And the governments paid.

It doesn’t matter what the markets say, what growth is forecast, what property bubble is rising in Ireland now. A principle was broken – our representative democracies true natures were revealed – as facilitators for capital investors, for corporations, for the elite of financial capital. Not servants of their people.

When the term “Ireland Inc” began to be used, when Enda Kenny promised that Ireland would be the “best little country in the world to do business” he wasn’t talking about the hundreds, thousands of small indigenous businesses in this country – people working too hard, giving up time with their families, their children, people struggling with costs of keeping the roof over their heads, the food on the table; he was talking about making it a good place for companies to pay as little tax as possible – to contribute as little as possible to schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure. About giving corporations a free ride on the back of good old little Ireland.

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The old system is lost, directionless

We deserve better. The people of Ireland, the people marching in the streets, know that something better is possible. That we can define who we are, how we organise ourselves, how we manage our country’s resources – our water, our gas, our land, our commons – together in a different way than Ireland Inc. The old system is lost, directionless, has no ideas apart from those imposed from outside.

Ireland’s governments have never really had real faith in their people. Politicians and political parties became like dynasties, running jokes in pubs, fixers for their friends, anonymous to those that didn’t vote for them. There’s no future in those dynasties because there’s no real vision there. No creativity, no real knowledge of what it’s like to live in this country as a citizen. All the things we need to build a better Ireland, we won’t find among our political classes. We need to find another way.

So just for a minute, pretend somebody asked you how we could do things better. How we could work from the bottom up, not from the top down. How we could build a country where everyone had access to food, housing, education, health care, water – as rights, not as commodities. Shake off those doubts that it can’t be done. Don’t look to other countries for inspiration. Look instead at your brothers, sisters, neighbours, family, friends. We are the people of Ireland, dignified, resolute. And we’re on the move.

Fergal Anderson runs the Leaf and Root farm in Co Galway with his partner Manu. They are also involved in building an Irish food sovereignty movement. www.leafandroot.org

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Fergal Anderson

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