Dublin: Tens of thousands marched on Ireland’s Government buildings on Wednesday holding a peaceful rally on Merrion Square in protest of Irish Water and the proposed water charges.
Police estimate that over 30,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to take part in the Right2Water organized march and rally at the Irish Government buildings. Organizers said the numbers were closer to 100,000.
Missiles were thrown at police officers as protesters attempted to gain access to Kildare Street, home of Ireland’s parliament building Leinster House. Police with riot shields and helmets were deployed but kept their distance from the crowds which were for the most part peaceful.
One police officer was treated for an eye injury at the scene and six people were arrested for public order offences.
Various activist groups from around the country were present and joined by the US group Detroit Water Brigade and SOS Greece who came to show solidarity with Ireland’s cause. Introduced to the stage the Michigan group was greeted by chants of “From Dublin to Detroit, water is a Human Right.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this year Justin Wedes, chief organizer of the activist group Detroit Water Brigade said "We stand in solidarity here with our brothers and sisters whose public water system is under threat."
Musicians, singers, activists and politicians entertained and addressed the rally from the main stage.
Some perspective: 100,000 Irish citizens (2% of country) in the streets of Dublin is like 7,000,000 USA'ers in Washington, DC #Right2Water— Detroit WaterBrigade (@DETWaterBrigade) December 10, 2014
Among them was Oscar-winning singer songwriter Glen Hansard. The Ballymun native said “I think there's something happening in the world, and I feel this is our version of it.
"The water charge is the straw that's breaking our backs - people are essentially very dissatisfied with how we are being governed."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams praised the crowd for demonstrating “people power” and said Irish Water and the water charges should be scrapped.
“I want to commend every single person here. You have been able to stand for yourselves but [also] for scores of thousands of people who have not been able to be here this day,” he said.
“What the Government has done is not good enough. The Government has to scrap water charges.”
Independent left-wing TD Clare Daly said, “This is indeed what democracy looks like. We are living in a moment that changed Ireland.
To chants of 'we won't pay - no way' tens of thousands applauded Gerry Adams on stage at water protest. pic.twitter.com/ANr5uP9hsd— Richard G McAuley (@richardgmcauley) December 10, 2014
She told the crowd “Irish Water is already dead. We are here to bury it.”
People Before Profit councillor Bríd Smith urged demonstrators to stay at the Right2Water rally on Merrion Square and not to join the protest on O’Connell Street. She referred to the estimated 1,000 protesters who blocked O’Connell Bridge causing traffic congestion.
Speaking at the Merrion Square protest Rione Kilcullen (45) a community worker from Mayo, told the Irish Times she took the day off to come to the protest.
“People have had enough of taking loads of crap quietly and getting on with it,” she said.
Marian Neff, from Cork, said, “We sucked up everything they’ve thrown at us for six years but water is a human right. We believed in this government, they’ve turned around the country supposedly, but water is a basic need. This will continue until they come to their senses.”
Speaking to the RTE radio show Morning Ireland, on Thursday morning, Socialist politician Joe Higgins said there are plans to mount protests of greater intensity in the run up to April when the first Irish Water bills will be sent out. He added that campaigners are starting to organize a massive boycott of those bills.
The Labour Party’s Derek Nolan said the Government must convince the Irish people that these new water charges, as an investment into the country’s infrastructure are necessary. He added that the fees are very affordable working out at 16c per day for an individual.
Earlier on Wednesday the Government had ruled out any further concessions over the proposed water charges.
Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said “I don’t envisage anything changing. This is completely necessary. I don’t envisage anything changing in relation to the package at all.”
He, again, admitted the Irish Government had made mistakes in setting up the utility company. He told reports his predecessor, Phil Hogan, could have done a better job.
“Mistakes were made.
“Do I think it could have been handled better by the minister who preceded me? Yes.”
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said after the Troika left “the Government became quite arrogant quite frankly and we stopped listening”.
He said the recent election results should be a wakeup call for the Irish Government but added that no concessions on water charges should be made. He said doing so would be giving in to the minority.
Last month the Government announced a revised scheme that will see charges capped for a single adults household at €160 ($198) and for others at €260 ($323) until 2019. Households will receive a €100 $124) (Water Conservation Grant every year.