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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
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A look inside the angry, fractured world of Ireland's 'yellow vests'

The movement – inspired by the French gilets jaunes – has had a shaky start.

JUST BEFORE 2PM last Saturday a group of people wearing yellow hi-vis jackets started to gather outside the Custom House alongside the River Liffey in Dublin city centre. 

By 2.30pm, about 60 or so people had collected into various small groups holding a variety of different flags and banners. Some wore scarves or bandanas around their faces. One man wore a Guy Fawkes mask. 

Among the signs were placards calling climate change a hoax, protesting against the fluoridation of water and decrying the spreading of “chemtrails” in the air. 

Other signs called for the banning of Gardasil – the vaccine given to teenage girls to prevent HPV – while one long banner proclaimed the name and Facebook page of the movement under which the various people had gathered and were marching: 

Yellow Vest Ireland

Before the ‘yellow vests’ started their march down the quays, a smaller group not wearing the signature hi-vis jackets formed on the outskirts of the crowd and unfurled their own banner and flag.

The flag was for the “anti-fascist” group Antifa, while the flag proclaimed the slogan “All Refugees Welcome Homes For All”. The reaction from some of the yellow vests was immediate.

IMG_0617 Antifa and yellow vest protesters at the Customs house last week. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

“Fuck off! Fuck off!” One man wearing a yellow vest shouted, attempting to pull the banner from the hands of the ‘Antifa’ protesters. 

Get the fuck out of here!… We’re here to fucking help the Irish! Irish first! Irish first!

Another man shouted that the Antifa demonstrators were only there to “cause trouble”.

“Don’t be protesting against us! We’re here to protest for our country! It’s nothing to do with racism,” he said.

A number of people intervened then and the men backed off, while others in yellow vests spoke to the Antifa people in quieter, more relaxed tones.  

After this, one of the men involved in the altercation with the Antifa counter-protesters shouted through a megaphone at a small RTÉ crew and the gardaí across the road.

“Capitalism has failed… and this country is at the epitome of it. We’re taking it back by a legal means,” the man shouted at an RTÉ reporter and cameraman. 

Get lost. You’re not wanted anymore. You wouldn’t help when you were asked!

With that, about 70 people began marching towards the docklands for the fifth official Yellow Vest Ireland protest.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The Yellow Vests

The Yellow Vest Ireland movement began with a Facebook page on 3 December of last year, set up by Wexford man Glenn Miller. 

The movement began just as similar “yellow vest” groups sprang up across Europe and the rest of the world, inspired by the example of the French “gilets jaunes” protests. 

In November, everyday citizens in cities and rural areas across France donned the yellow vests that they are required to carry in their cars under French law and marched through cities and towns in protest at a planned fuel hike by French president Emmanuel Macron. 

download A man carries a sign saying 'Macron get out' during a demonstration in Bourges on Saturday. Source: Sebadelha Julie/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

Since then, the protests have grown in numbers – but have also seen more violence, with looting, destruction of property and attacks on journalists a feature.

French police have also come under fire for their hardline attitude towards protesters, with multiple serious injuries caused by the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. 

There have also been a number of deaths as a result of the protests.

On 22 December, euronews reported the death toll linked to the movement in France had reached 10. Most involved traffic incidents around roadblocks but CNN reports how an 80-year-old woman was killed when a tear gas canister went through the window of her home. 

Despite concessions from Macron, the yellow vests have grown to encompass a wide range of societal issues and a general discontent with the political system. 

Commentators have said the movement is mostly ideologically aligned with the French far-right and is inspired by anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiments, as well as a hatred for the current French government under Macron. 

However, left-wing and far-left groups opposed to the politics of austerity and the rhetoric of the right have also taken part in demonstrations and laid claim to the symbol of the yellow vest.

This dichotomy of ideologically opposed groups marching under the one populist banner is evident in many of the yellow vest movements across the globe, including in England and in Ireland. 

But many in the movement see this cooperation as the its defining feature: groups put aside their differences – for now – to topple the system as it is.

Different marches

As tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris last Saturday with renewed vigour, about 70 people walked down the quays towards the docklands in Dublin.

IMG_0631 Protesters in Dublin on Saturday Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

Smaller protests were also held in Galway, Belfast, Wexford and other locations in Ireland (something organisers put the relatively small turnout in Dublin down to).  

The Dublin march was disorganised from the start, with no clear leadership or structure to the crowd. Close to the IFSC on the quays, a man stopped the crowd on the road to deliver an impromptu speech.

He decried negative publicity directed towards the Irish yellow vests and reiterated that movement was “not racist”. 

He asked the crowd had they ever eaten in a Chinese or Thai restaurantm and if they had they “weren’t racist”. 

Slogans like, “The banks got bailed out we got sold out”, and “Labour! Blue Shirts! Fianna Fail! Jail, jail, jail them all!” were shouted by the crowd while a man kept time with a drum. 

A significant presence of about 10-15 gardaí kept pace with the demonstration.  

The Antifa protesters also accompanied the marchers but at the back of the group, peeling off before they left the Quays (the Antifa demonstrators approached by TheJournal.ie said they didn’t want to speak to the media). 

Behind the Convention Centre on Guild Street, the demonstrators split as a smaller group left the main protest. 

The lead group wanted to march to Dublin Port to attempt to block traffic and “hit them where it hurts”, while the others wanted to head towards O’Connell Street. 

yv1 (pixelated) Protesters making their way towards to Dublin Port. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

“Come on guys! Stick together!” One of the protesters shouted.

This is what’s wrong with this country!

Eventually, the laggards were brought back onside and the group collectively made their way towards Dublin Port. 

The first march

The first demonstration of the Irish Yellow Vests took place on Saturday 15 December, when organisers met at the Custom House and marched to Leinster House.

Media reports put the turnout at between a hundred and several hundred protesters. 

Yellow Vest3276_90560676 Protesters heading towards the Dáil at the first protest last month. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

At the march, anti-eviction campaigner Ben Gilroy read out the list of the 15 demands of the movement (which have since grown in number). 

These include the introduction of Citizens Initiated Referenda in Ireland, Leo Varadkar to resign and call a general election, the abolition of the TV licence and an end to all evictions. 

(You can view the full list here

Similar to France and the UK, the Irish movement – which organisers say is trying to appeal to all sides of the political spectrum – has been fragmented from the start, with opposing sides stating that they represent the true spirit of the yellow vests. 

Initially there were two Facebook pages – ‘Yellow Vest Ireland’ and ‘Yellow Vest Ireland – A United movement for social change’ – which bickered with each other.

The latter accused the former of being far-right, and the former accused the latter of being a front for leftist parties. 

‘Yellow Vest Ireland – A United Movement For Social Change’ appears to have since been deleted from Facebook.

However, there are multiple – and distinct – Yellow Vest pages for most counties in Ireland on Facebook, as well as pages completely separate from the original page.

Some of these pages are dominated by fringe conspiracy theory views and share debunked articles from untrustworthy news sources. 

yv2 (blacked out) A Facebook post sharing a discredited fringe theory.

Facebook is full of accusations and counter-accusations of political leanings and ideologies, with arguments sometimes spilling over into the protests themselves. 

Later marches

The Saturday following the initial rally saw hundreds of protesters march through Dublin towards the GPO wearing the signature yellow vests. News broke in the previous week about the controversial Strokestown eviction in Co Roscommon, which galvanised supporters of the movement and contributed to the increased numbers.

Several protesters left the main demonstration and set up outside a KBC branch (the bank involved in the eviction) on Sandwith Street, while earlier in the day a group of people in hi-vis  yellow jackets also occupied the building.

2353-kbc-bank Protesters in KBC Bank. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

The following Saturday, just days after Christmas, the numbers were significantly reduced but the protesters generated national headlines after they blocked Dublin’s Port Tunnel, causing it to close temporarily. 

The protesters attempted to block traffic again last Saturday at a roundabout at Dublin Port, but the affected vehicles turned around and the protest dispersed after about 40 minutes. 

download (1) Protesters blocking the Port Tunnel in late-December.

The people behind the movement 

Ben Gilroy – who read out the list of demands outside the Dáil in the first protest – has run for election to the Dáil twice and once for Europe with the party Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI).

DDI has as its main policy goal the introduction of Citizens Initiated Referenda in Ireland – the central feature of the yellow vest movement here. 

CIR would basically allow groups or citizens to put forward constitutional changes to be voted on by the electorate if the required number of signatures were obtained. 

Gilroy has a long history of litigation and agitation in the courts. In the past, he has appeared in court in support of homeowners facing repossession orders from banks.

Gilroy has been found to be in contempt of court three times. He was jailed this week for three months. Court reports indicate that he failed to comply with a community service order. 

In September of last year he was banned by the High Court from taking cases against AIB bank and from advising others before the courts due to a history of bringing forward frivolous and vexatious litigation. 

A video posted on Gilroy’s own Facebook page from the fourth Yellow Vest protest held in early January shows him being shouted down by fellow protesters as he attempts to speak to the camera.

gilroy Gilroy at the protest earlier this month. Source: Screengrab

“This is a people’s movement! Not Ben Gilroy! A people’s movement!” One woman shouted as a hand covers the camera.

In an interview, Glenn Miller – who founded the organisation – said that Ben Gilroy was not the leader of the movement but had been asked to read the list of demands out.

Miller states that Yellow Vest Ireland is a “leaderless movement” with a variety of different views expressed.

The description given above the list of demands is:

The yellow vest movement is grassroots, leaderless and all are welcome to have their say and take their own actions locally across Ireland. If you are right leaning or left leaning you can affect [sic]meaningful change united. Let no one tell you different. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie in a separate interview, Miller described himself as a father-of-four with no political leanings or affiliation to any political party.

Miller said he was moved to start the Yellow Vest Ireland Facebook page by what he saw as the widespread failure of the Irish political and social systems. 

“Between an escalating homelessness, and escalating poverty and an escalating healthcare crisis and escalating every crisis ” he said.

He said the movement was “an opportunity to unite the people of Ireland behind one banner and to take our issue to the government and make them listen for a change”. 

miller Glenn Miller outside Government Buildings during the week. Source: Facebook/Screengrab

Miller said that the movement wanted to motivate ordinary people to demonstrate and demand a change to the government. He said that anyone was welcome to join the protest regardless of political ideology in order to effect this change. 

“What we’ve called on people to do is unite under the one banner and that’s going to be difficult when people have views from the left and the right,” he said. 

“These groups… those who support one view and those who are against the views they’re very much welcome to join the movement… regardless of colour, regardless or creed, regardless of where you are. 

If you live on this island you’re affected by the policies on this government. 

The right

Miller denies that the movement is right-wing or anti-immigration or dominated by these elements, and says that its demands were for everyone. 

“It’s not about the left and it’s not about the right. They’re going to go at each other all the time but what we’re asking both the left and the right is that they… put aside their differences.

Put a pin in it and unite as one group to get rid of Leo’s government.

Despite these assurances, social media battles are being waged online between disparate factions of the movement.   

While initially the movement was supported by left-wing activist groups and parties, they have since distanced themselves from the Yellow Vest Ireland Facebook page and organisers.

Socialist and left-wing groups have stated that the Facebook page organisers support views incompatible with their own beliefs.

3392 Yellow Vest_90560678 Source: Leah Farrell

Miller denies this, saying that he is “not politically motivated in the slightest”.

“You have these far-left groups describing us as this and the far-right groups describing us as this,” he said. 

He denied that his politics were far-right, saying that “people had accused him of it” but that he was neither right nor left.

“People are going to attack me and accuse me of all sorts of things,” he said.

Anti-immigration

The Dublin protest last Saturday was, however, dominated in voice by right-wing groups with a clear message against mass immigration.

As well as the initial scuffles with Antifa protesters, one man who declined to give his name expressed strong anti-migration views and that he was opposed to widespread immigration to Ireland. 

By the time the protest reached the roundabout at Dublin Port, about 30 people remained, and sat in the road attempting to block trucks entering and leaving the port. 

At this point, one of the protesters took the megaphone and read out the main demands of the movement. Added to these, however, was a vocal opposition to the UN’s Global Compact on Migration (which the woman called the “EU migration pact”).

“No EU emigration pact. We don’t mind taking people into our country but for God’s sake let us take care of our own people first,” the woman said to a cheer from some of the crowd. 

IMG_0645 Protesters at Dublin Port last Saturday. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

“Today, there are over 258 million migrants around the world living outside their country of origin… they say this is through population growth… that is a lie.

They blew up several eastern countries, displaced these people, and expect us to take them in while we’re starving.

The woman also spoke at length about how the current Irish Constitution and courts system were legally invalid, expressing a fringe view put forward by certain groups.  

Another man who took the megaphone called for a ban on organisations related to Hungarian philanthropist George Soros (who is known for financially supporting liberal and progressive causes around the world), as well as a halting to Ireland’s foreign aid programmes and stopping all asylum applications from countries “not at war”. 

Again, Miller told TheJournal.ie that despite these seemingly anti-immigration sentiments being read out at the protest, they were not contained in the demands of the movement as he saw them.

Miller was not present at the Dublin protest (he was in Wexford) and said he had no control over the events there. He said that the other demonstrations passed in a peaceful manner free from the sentiments or rhetoric expressed in Dublin. 

For him, the idea of Citizens Initiated Referenda is the main goal, which would help sort out the various social issues affecting the Yellow Vest Ireland movement. 

Miller said that he hopes that the movement will continue to grow each week and that to accomplish that goal people must unite.

The left 

Last week’s Dublin protest was far from unified on many fronts. 

A bulk of the protesters hold fringe views with climate change denial, anti-vaccine and anti-fluoridation campaigners all present. 

Also among them, however, were individuals who came out for the first time or who had been at other protests but found themselves disagreeing with the main views expressed.

James – a young man from Waterford (who only gave his first name) – was out on Saturday marching with the Yellow Vests for the first time.

He said he was protesting against austerity and the debt-based financial system which he said had crippled Ireland in the past and would again in the future.   

“For me it’s not about any individual or any politician or any political party. It’s not about left or right it’s just the whole system, the financial system is debt-based and it’s unsustainable,” he said. 

James said Saturday’s protest was “completely unorganised” and that the lack of a single message was negatively affecting the protest.

A sixth weekly yellow vest protest is scheduled for today, while a protest outside the Dáil organised by people sympathetic with the cause saw just a handful of people turning up during the week, so it’s unclear how the protest will progress. 
Ongoing demonstrations are also being held outside Mountjoy Prison in Phibsboro, calling for Ben Gilroy to be released. 
At about 4.15pm last Saturday, it began to grow dark, and the remaining band of protesters started making their way back towards the city centre.

IMG_0641

One woman – Clara Byrne from Bray – spoke to TheJournal.ie about what brought her out to protest. Byrne had been to four of the five demonstrations since the movement began last month.

“It think it is difficult to be marching with people who have opposing views to you,” she said.

But [the movement] is anti-austerity and it’s supposed to be against the corruption and the capitalist society as we know it.

She said that while it was difficult to reconcile her views (which she described as far to the left) with the views expressed at the protest, it was also an opportunity to “open up a dialogue among people with very opposing views”.

Byrne said that it was would “definitely bother her” to be associated with a lot of the views expressed at the demonstration, but that it was still important to show solidarity with the global protests. 

She said that the earlier protests had a much more visible presence of the left-wing elements, but that in recent weeks it had mostly disappeared.

Better organisation, a clearer message and movement to the back of the fringe elements were what was needed if the movement was to have any success, she said.

I’ve been here every week and I’m really hoping it will grow into something you’d be proud to stand behind.

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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