Mutton Island at dawn

Mutton Island at dawn

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fear of mass protests and the 'sinister fringe'



“If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Malcolm X

They still don’t get it, do they?

With all the bickering there has been over the water charges in recent weeks, leading to today’s virtual u-turn by the Irish Government, it seems that the true anger of a mass movement of people has still not been fully understood by our leaders.

Yes, they do realise that 250,000 people marched against the charges, in what used to be one of the most passive countries in Europe. That sent fear through the ranks of back-bench TDs who were already worried about holding onto their seats in the next General Election.

And, today, the new Minster for the Environment admitted that mistakes were made. Alan Kelly is from the Labour Party, who once promised they would not bring in water charges.

Minster Kelly could not even get the u-turn right, as he ran out to a press conference instead of hearing the views of the opposition TDs in the Dail. He reduced the charges, instead of realising that people wanted the entire quango to be abolished, for him to "rip it up and start again".

What the Government don’t seem to get is that people have had enough of austerity after eight years. People are sleeping in cars or crowding out homeless shelters because they can’t afford to pay the rent any more.

Two weeks ago, I experienced for myself what it's like to lie in a hospital trolley for more than 24 hours. There is something seriously wrong with a country which prioritises bankers over the health of ordinary people.

People have faced job losses, losing friends and family members to emigration or suicide, and had their pay packets decimated by the property tax and the wonderfully named Universal Social Charge (USC).

Even though we all know that these new taxes were invented because the Irish Government did not have the balls to burn the unsecured bondholders.

We have seen the bonus culture of the chosen few with the right connections who have risen to the top of Irish Water.

Thanks to social media, we have seen videos of Gardai and contractors confronting peaceful protesters in their own driveways.

These contractors are not looking for leaks in the system, they are installing meters for a private company without the consent of the landowners. And guess who owns the company which is installing the meters?

So a couple of protesters have thrown bricks or abused Gardai and an entire movement has been denigrated in the mainstream media. Thousands of citizens who marched in opposition to the charges have been associated with a “sinister fringe”.

But nowadays people have Facebook and Twitter and You Tube. They can see the kind of footage which does not make it onto our TV screens.

They can see that people are angry, but mostly peaceful in their protests, up and down the country.
Malcolm X lived in an era when there was no access to social media, when elite corporations could control the access to information of virtually the entire population.

When people see that the news on their TV screens or in the papers does not reflect what they have seen on YouTube or with their own eyes, they have a right to be angry.

It’s the injustice of charging people a new tax for water – something which they are already paying for through other taxes – which has galvanised people a lot more than the prices which were reduced by the Government this afternoon.

People attended the water protest in Galway on November 1 who were never previously at a protest march in their lives. And that's what is really scaring the FG-Labour coalition, who are not too bothered when a few hundred march in solidarity with the people of Gaza or the victims of sexual abuse.

These water charges appear to be the final straw for many people who have been fed up paying for the sins of a tiny elite for six years at this stage.

While the people at the top are contriving to make a mockery of the 1916 commemorations, they have done everything in their power to discredit a mass movement which, to them, must seem quite frightening.

The Taoiseach has claimed that democracy is under threat from the “sinister fringe”.

Others might argue that the real threat to democracy we have seen in recent weeks has come from Gardai pepper-spraying peaceful protesters, hurling a young woman to the ground, or contractors “squaring up” to protesters in their own driveways.

That’s not to excuse those who have engaged in violent acts against the Gardai, Government Ministers, or contractors. It was simply wrong to trap the Tanaiste, Joan Burton, inside her car in Jobstown, just as it was wrong for one teenager to throw a brick at the Gardai afterwards. 

But it's ridiculous to blame a huge protest movement for the misdeeds of a few.

Social media posts and videos have shown us the real truth about the Irish Water protests, in a way which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. 

Unfortunately for Malcolm X, there was no Facebook or You Tube in his time. Unfortunately for Enda Kenny and his Government, videos which have gone viral have exposed the truth in a way which makes people question the "spin" they have been exposed to for far too long.

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