Monday 25 March 2019

Traders rage at Central Bank's Occupy policy

Joanna Kiernan

Businesses claim bank 'side-stepping' damage by Dame St protest that's strangling livelihoods

OWNERS of businesses surrounding the Occupy Dame Street protest camp at the Central Bank in Dublin have accused the bank of 'side-stepping' the damage being done to local traders.

Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan said last week that while he didn't "welcome" the occupation of the Dame Street concourse, he has no plans to take action against the protesters.

"A new development on Dame Street has been the arrival of the Occupy Movement," he said. "While not everyone is happy with their being there, several people have said to me that their presence symbolises, albeit in a rather ambiguous and even incoherent way, the feelings of a large part of society in regard to what has gone wrong in the financial sector and with the banks.

"We don't welcome their presence, but -- as long as no one is harmed or put in danger by them -- we are not at present inclined to take action to have them moved away."

But local traders are extremely unhappy with the situation and say that jobs are on the line.

"What's really irritating is the stand that the bank is taking on it, and the powers that be. It seems that they're all side-stepping it," local business owner John Murphy told the Sunday Independent last week.

"If I put a piece of cardboard outside that door I'd get a fine, yet in the capital city in the centre, in the main tourist area, that is permitted to take place. It doesn't make sense," he added.

"At the minute I think it's a protest of ego, as opposed to a protest of conscience. There's very few of them actually staying there. This is our capital city and the fact that they've set up a shanty town right across there really irritates me. Obviously there's the collateral damage that it's causing to the business as well. Then when the weather gets milder, what is it going to attract then?"

"They came at Halloween and for the first week or two it didn't really affect anything, but then it just got bigger and bigger and really messy, and attracted loads of loopers and headbangers," said Frank McQuade, who owns two shops directly facing the camp.

"I would think that when the weather gets better, it will get more difficult. We asked them for weeks and weeks and explained to them about being small businesses and needing the footfall of customers coming across there. They kept fobbing us off for weeks, right over Christmas and then in January we had meetings every week with them and they'd say 'oh we'll go back to our assembly'. There are no leaders or bosses, so it's very handy, they don't have to do anything then."

Mr McQuade is quick to point out that he has no issue with their protest in theory, but in practice it is a very different story. Having witnessed some Occupy Dame street protesters openly urinating in the street, and the camp becoming little other than a fire hazard, Frank McQuade has reached his wits' end.

"Jesus I hate the banks more than they do!" he said. "But there's at least 50 jobs on the line because of them, if not more. I'm 25 years here in April and this is the worst year even including the eighties."

A few doors down, Paddy Conlon, manager of Candy Lab, explained how he has watched people get off the bus and avoid walking near his shop due to the camp.

"It's a major concern to us. It's very untidy," he said. "The main house they have at the front of the bank is fine and I think they should just focus on that.

"It's well known that some nights there is absolutely nobody camping there."

"It couldn't be done by me and you," Mr Conlon added, "to erect anything you need planning permission."

For John Murphy, the camp has taken a worthy cause and discredited it.

"There's no discussions with them," he said. "We've tried every means to get them to reduce the size of the camp or make it more aesthetically pleasing but there's no give with them. It seems like these are serial protesters and if it isn't the oil or trees of whatever it'd be something else. I actually don't think they've done much good."

"For the first three months I pretty much stayed here constantly," said protester Padraig Loughran, 21, from Trim, Co Meath, in the kitchen area of the Occupy camp.

"I've gone away now doing other things," he explained, "but I come back every now and then and check in. The movement is much bigger than the camp itself, the camp is a statement and must remain so as a permanent statement and as a permanent raising of awareness."

Asked if he'd worry that jobs may be lost as a result of the camp's close proximity to these small businesses, the campaigner, who studied acting for two years, replied: "I can understand where they're coming from, but when one gentleman first came to us with his grievances, a member from the camp went over and had a look at his books and had a talk with him and you know, you're in the middle of a recession! You're charging €16.50 for a hair cut! Your business isn't really going to boom! whether or not that's a direct cause of us, I don't personally think so. No."

Sunday Independent

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