Tuesday 20 November 2018

The Weekly Read: What the Irish Water protests have brought to Irish politics

The protesting of tens of thousands of people over Ireland's recent water charge implementation shows how important it is that we tackle incompetent institutions, writes David O'Donoghue

Earlier in the month the streets of our capital city were thronged with the compiled anger and frustration of tens and thousands of people who opposed the water charges.
Earlier in the month the streets of our capital city were thronged with the compiled anger and frustration of tens and thousands of people who opposed the water charges.

David O'Donoghue

Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink. Yes, the scandals surrounding Irish Water have led to headline writers across the country wildly misquoting Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but it’s not just uptight poetry nerds like myself that the swiftly approaching water charges have been rubbing up the wrong way.

Earlier in the month the streets of our capital city were thronged with the compiled anger and frustration of tens and thousands of people who opposed the water charges.

Estimates show the number of protesters could have even hit 100,000.

Even as the leaves wilt from the trees and the winter chill sets in, the movement against water charges has been having a bountiful spring as protests and marches bloom up across the island.

These flowers of riotous resistance stand in bleak contrast to the tangled knot of our established political system which stretches across the island, not as an organic rosebush of rebellion but as a web of thorns, suffocating life out of those who might get politically engaged.

It is a cliché, at this point, to talk about the Irish being politically apathetic.

We shout at the TV the argument goes, but we do nothing.

Take this attitude if you like and play directly into the hands of those who wish to keep you apathetic, who want you to turn away in disgust as you gaze on the wretched reality of Irish politics.

It’s that apathy and impotent rage that keeps the gravy train rolling. But the horrible little secret they desperately want to keep from you is that resistance and direct political engagement are not some never-ending, herculean slog for no reward.

The dirty little secret is that all you need is one victory, one concession, one dirt-under-your-fingernails moment to realise that getting down and dirty with politics cannot only reap huge rewards, but set a whole new vision for a radically different political future.

It would be premature to sound the horns of victory and set the tables for the feast, but news emerging about Irish Water in the past few days shows we can at least tentatively celebrate a victory for political participation.

It has been revealed that one million people in the country have refused to return this application forms to Irish Water.

It is likely now the date on which standard charges for water were meant to be replaced by those tied to consumption will be delayed by one month because of this campaign.

Yes, the pushing back of this date may not seem like some grand victory, but thinking of it in context with the streams of people now active in protest movements against the charges shows a profound lesson for the Irish people.

This kind of direct response to action is the perfect illustration of real, engaged democracy.

Time and time again it has been shown that what we currently picture as democracy, something that takes place with a pencil and a ballot paper in a little booth once every few years, is not getting us any kind of lasting or effective change. Real democracy is breathed on the streets and roared in the pouring rain.

Real, engaged democracy shouts from its soapbox and hands out its petition. This fight back against Irish Water teaches us that taking off the gloves, getting down and dirty and giving government a good hard swing ourselves just might draw some blood.

The moment we can take the grassroots fist of popular protest and draw some blood from the establishment, we won’t stop swinging.

And eventually, when there’s nothing left to critique and destroy, our eager hands can turn to building something better.

In association with www.campus.ie - click here for more

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News