Last week tens of thousands of Irish took to the streets in Dublin to protest water charges. Among them was Walter Ryan-Purcell, Goleen Parish, West Cork. Here is his story.
4.20am in the black of night when the alarm rings. Today it’s different, you don’t curse the alarm. You rise with purpose. Sandwiches made from the night before, the flask ready for the tea. Even currently bread packed in tinfoil, like old times! Today is all about our Nation, our deepest beliefs, our respect for our ancestors and our love for generations to come.
From every village town and city in Ireland people are gathering, people from all walks of life. We quietly enter the bus welcoming every stranger as if we worked together for decades. We are off to peacefully protest against the relentless theft of all we stand for, all we own, and everything for which our ancestors shed their blood to pass on to us. Now it’s our turn to do what’s right.
Many people on the bus had never marched before, but today is different. Many of us don’t fully understand the complexities of the billions, the promissory notes, the off-balance sheet accounting, or EU exemptions – complexities created to lose our common interest. Younger people have little interest, others still believe the spin of the PR machines.
But we understand how our country has been enslaved by debt, robbed by bankers and bondholders who took a risk for profit. They were bailed out by the hardworking people, many of whom would also love to be on this bus today. For every person heading for Dublin, there are many more were there in spirit. After all it is a Wednesday, but no ordinary Wednesday, it is International Human Rights Day.
Water is a human right. It’s not the charges, it’s the worry of privatisation, higher prices, it becoming a tradable asset, owned by the international bondholders, and traded on the stock exchange. Ireland is different. Irish people have given enough, without their permission. Our oil, our fishing rights, our money, our present and future comforts. But don’t dare take our water, our forestry, our land, our Nation. We’re not stupid.
As the bus moves through this West Cork dark December morning more real people are welcomed aboard. Many have taken the day off, some have come from the islands the night before. There is a growing excitement and the discussions get a little louder. Words like cronyism, polls, whips, emigration, Labour, politicians names, Merkel, puppets, arrogance, usc, banks, bondholders could be heard with increasing ferocity.
There is a common agenda emerging. We discuss with delight the people just like us leaving every peninsula, village, town and city to converge on the Capital. How many will turn up? On a Wednesday? We stop for refreshments. I meet a distant Tipperary cousin and her father. He says we’re wasting our time. Many are still conditioned to a hopeless party political destiny, and living in the bankers economy rather than a sustainable society. Not us on the busses. We have had enough. We are now nearing Dublin. Will there be many there we worry? In Portlaoise we join seven other busses and travel in convoy. It’s getting exciting. In by the canal we notice many boarded up flats and chat about homelessness and property prices.
The bus stops and we get off at Fitzwilliam Square, gathering our banners and outfits. Drums are banging in the distance, we join more wonderful people in search of Merrion Square. People with loudspeakers chanting slogans, passers-by in suits, some cross looking, many smiling. As we near our destination the photographers search for the most interesting banners, film crews desperately try to catch the moment, and radio researchers look for sound bites.
We’re on the square, jam packed with ordinary people just like ourselves. Homemade banners on water charges, austerity, Kenny and Burton bashing (and not forgetting Hogan), mops, taps, and many proudly naming their county or region of origin. There is a strong Sinn Féin presence, well organised with professional flags.
The atmosphere is one of utter unity, everyone here for a common cause, Enough is Enough. Together on the streets of Dublin we all silently reflect on how historic it is today, and what it must have been like on these very same streets almost a hundred years ago when our ancestors were again fighting for their freedom from a different oppressor. Banners with pictures of James Connolly galvanises this sense of nationalism today.
The speeches start, the trade unions rally the crowd. The numbers are three times what was expected so there is a slight tension of people crushing. On come the Independent TDs, the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ brigade, and Gerry Adams, the latter being a bit disappointing. We were expecting more. Some more Independents, from both left and right agendas, but all resolutely together on this cause.
Then a poor speaker rants on and won’t shut up, the organisers put on some music to quieten her, and the whole momentum is lost. It’s very cold, the crowd disperses a little towards the back, as some go to find warm cafés. We move up a little to the packed front near the stage. The speeches improve again, mention of the gangsters in ‘the open prison’ in the Dáil behind. Glen Hansard and his buddy sign the wonderful Brendan Behan’s The Ould Triangle. We move through the crowd and around the corner. The crowds are enormous. Everyone proud to be here, united in spirit, shouting in unison, and collectively giving the present Government ‘the red card’.
We had done our bit for about three hours on the Square, represented our parishes, and made a stand in our tens of thousands against the arrogance of our own elected representatives, who like puppets saddle this Nation with the debt of others, and seemingly wish to give away our natural resources, our sovereignty, and the futures of generations to come. No, not us. The oil might have been given away but no more.
There is a strong belief today that all can be saved. We can rebuild our great Nation, and reclaim it from those who are trying to acquire it with the help of the present ‘watery’ coalition government. They seem to be extremely weak negotiators, and simply puppets for the European and global powers. Ireland is not for sale, and we will look after all It’s people. A change of Government is a very common theme today, and the quicker the better before they sign away any more of our Nation’s resources.
Back on the bus and some welcome warming tea and sandwiches. Huge delays in Dublin traffic. Disgust hearing the news of Gardaí and broadcasters suggesting there were only 30,000 there, disgust with the arrogance of the minister saying that the water charges will remain as is, and annoyance of reports of violence at the protest.
You never saw such an enormous crowd of really decent people protesting peacefully with a common cause. Proud to be there, proud to be Irish, resolute in keeping all of our remaining natural resources, and very determined to rebuild our great Nation. A great historic day. Back to base 1.40am.
(Written to give those who would like to have been there a real taste of the atmosphere, and for those who think it is just about water charges).