Anti-Capitalist Protest in Dublin - May 18th 2010


In the context of previously reported Gardai violence against bank bail out protests the WSM decided to mobilise for the Right to Work protest on May 18th and published a call for an "anti-capitalist block" on the demonstration, to assemble on Stephen's Green, a few hundred metres away from the Dail and a half an hour earlier than the scheduled time for the RTW march.  This was done for a couple of reasons - firstly because the announced starting point for the RTW march was the Dail, which was also the march's destination. Thus it seemed that a static rally with speeches from notables was to be the order of the day and these are normally felt to be fairly grim and turgid affairs to anyone who has attended a few.  Secondly because the WSM wanted to differentiate itself from the SWP-controlled RTW event and create an alternative pole of attraction for radicals.

The Right To Work campaign is an initiative of the Socialist Workers Party, an initiative in which some oppositional politicans, a few trade union leaders and a liberal media commentator or two are happy to be given a platform.  On May 11th, they organised a march to the Dail (Irish parliament) where they held a rally and listened to speeches from the afforementioned notables.  A WSM participant counted 1000 people taking part in the march (on O'Connell street). During the rally, a group of protestors attempted to enter the grounds of the parliament.  Although it is difficult to say for certain, video footage suggests that this started out as a symbolic action by a group of SWP members that escalated into a concerted pushing match between the gardai protecting the gate when a few dozen more protestors joined in spontaneously. As the gardai were losing this match due to weight of numbers, they escalated the violence of the situation and batoned the crowd, which led to an almost instant conclusion to the confrontation. 

The drama, however, lived on in the media.  The content of much of the reports bore relatively little relationship to the event ("Protestors storm Irish parliament" - Sky News "Shinners storm Dail" - Evening Herald).  The extent of the coverage and the weight accorded to it, also seemed to be somewhat out of proportion to the significance of the events.  It dominated news coverage for a couple of days and continues to elicit weighty commentary from opinion writers a week later.  Most amusingly, Fintan O'Toole, deputy editor of the Irish Times, who spoke at the rally, opined that the events meant that "the right to peaceful protest is under threat from two sides." O'Toole is probably one of the most intelligent and left-leaning commentators in the Irish media which, unfortunately, isn't hard.  His article is a good example of the incredible narrowness of political thought in this country and the awe-inspiring poverty of intellectual thought.  It is based around a sequence of assertions about the nature of protest et al, which are little more than liberal wishful thinking that are contradicted by the evidence in almost every case. In the aftermath of the skirmish at the Dail, presumably hoping to capitalise on all the media attention, the RTW campaign called for a follow up protest the following week, on the evening of Tuesday May 18th.

On the morning of Saturday May 16th, Eirigi staged a protest at Anglo Irish Bank, the institution most closely associated with the collapse of the Irish banking system, which involved a small number of activists occupying a rooftop ledge and ended with them being assaulted by the police.  This added somewhat to the sense that social discontent might be on the verge of spilling over into broader conflict. 

The WSM and Semora Spraoi callout for the anti-capitalist bloc was reasonably successful - what looked like over 200 people showed up - including banners from the Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group, Seomra Spraoi, Eirigi, the IRSP, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and a student solidarity group.  The meeting up point had a heavy police presence which, unusually, included 4 officers on horseback and a helicopter hovering overhead.  After a few speeches, the crowd started to form up to march to join the RTW protest.  The route of the march was to be only a few hundred metres long - along Stephen's Green, down Dawson Street and onto Molesworth St - and was scheduled to stop on the way at Anglo Irish Bank's headquarters.

Bizzarely, the police made a concerted attempt to stop the march leaving.  They formed a cordon of officers backed by horses along the corner of Stephen's Green and attempted to physically prevent the march from entering the road.  Why they attempted to do this is a matter of conjecture - having attended hundreds of marches - some with less than 50 people, I have never seen the police attempt to block a march from using the road in Dublin. Some of the marchers thought that it represented a provocation in the hope that the crowd would give the police an excuse to attack them, others thought that it represented an attempt to put the radicals in their place by imposing themselves upon them.  Whatever their motivation, their execution proved inept.  Within a couple of minutes the entire crowd had succeeded in pushing through them or walking around them and forming up as a march on the road.  The police were, for whatever reason, unwilling to escalate the violence to impose themselves in the face of the weight of numbers.  They spent a few more minutes attempting to block the front of the march from advancing by pushing it backwards, which was just as difficult to understand and just as ineptly executed as their first attempt.  Within a few minutes the march had walked through and around them and they gave up.  

The march continued for 100 metres of so to the HQ of Anglo Irish bank where the police formed another line to stop the crowd advancing.  This time they managed to hold the line, due mainly to the fact that nobody approached it or attempted to breach it.  The march paused for a few speeches and continued going for a few hundred further metres to join up with the RTW rally - and was greeted by Sinn Fein's Daithi Doolan on the platform with the words "everybody's welcome as long as you behave".  The RTW rally itself appeared to be of a similar size to the previous weeks march, up to a 1,000 people, mostly from left wing groups. They were there before the anti-capitalist block arrived to add a couple of hundred extra bodies.

Some songs and speeches followed as the rain came down.  As the rally dispersed, a bit of shouting and pushing occured between some police and some protestors and an egg was thrown, but this quickly petered out.

Words Chekov; Images Chekov, Kev, Freda, Aileen

Created with flickr slideshow.

Video and images from other sources
What follows is a collection of images and video from the day put together by other organisations and individuals

Some nice arty images by 'PunkRock'

Video produced by left republican group eirigi

Video from threeriversblue