Thousands brave rain to protest against water charges

MAKING A SPLASH: The Right2Water protesters make their way down Dublin’s O’Connell St yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Allison Bray

Up to 10,000 protesters snaked through the rain-soaked streets of the capital yesterday in the last anti-water charge demonstration ahead of Friday's General Election.

The protest, organised by the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Right2Water campaign, passed off peacefully as marchers of all ages and backgrounds wound their way from the Garden of Remembrance, past Christ Church Cathedral and along Dame Street, before rallying at College Green.

Leading the protest was a frail-looking Kathleen Byrne, who was pushed along in a wheelchair by her daughter Maria as she chanted "No way, we won't pay".

But the feisty pensioner wasn't shy about stating her opinion of the outgoing Government, chanting on her megaphone an expletive-filled denunciation of the Taoiseach, much to the delight of supporters who also booed en masse as they passed an outdoor TV screen featuring a broadcast by Enda Kenny.

Among the crowd was an assortment of trade unionists, activists and leftist politicians, including Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy, Socialist Party TD Clare Daly, and Independent TD Mick Wallace.

Organisers had billed the demonstration as "the biggest demonstration in the history of the State", but it failed to draw the 20,000 marchers they had hoped to attract, although heavy rain that left massive puddles along the route may have been a factor.

Gardai said the event was peaceful. However, the crowd, which at one stage stretched from the north of the Spire to O'Connell Bridge, brought the city centre to a standstill as flag and placard-carrying demonstrators chanted, banged on drums and blew air horns, demanding an end to water charges and austerity-era politics.

The protest was also the first public demonstration of support for the Right2Water's fledgling Right2Change movement which claims support of 106 candidates in the election. They have not only vowed to abolish Irish Water and water charges but are calling for radical intervention in the areas of employment, public spending, housing and healthcare.

After the open-air rally in front of the gates of Trinity College, candidates from the new Right2Change movement held a rally at Wynn's Hotel looking for their constituents' support on Friday.

Richard Boyd Barrett said: "If the Government, and particularly the Labour Party, wants an explanation as to why they are collapsing in the polls, that explanation was to be found on the streets of Dublin today. Today's protest has once again demonstrated the enormous anger against water charges, Irish Water and unjust austerity measures. It is a clear message to the Government that water charges, and the Government that brought them in, must go."