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Union bosses booed at austerity protest

Last night the organisers of the massive anti austerity march in Dublin condemned SIPTU leader Jack O'Connor's "divisive attack" on a section of the marchers.

O'Connor had claimed that heckling of an ICTU speaker by the crowd was orchestrated by Sinn Fein and ULAsupporters in the crowd and was a "fascist" tactic.

Last night People Before Profit councillor Brid Smith said: "Nobody orchestrated any heckling – it was a spontaneous outburst of anger at the inaction of union leaders.

"Some highly-paid union bosses appear so much out of touch with the anger of their own grassroots that they see conspiracies everywhere."

She said that Jack O'Connor's comments were totally uncalled for and he should withdraw his insulting remarks.

It was a note of controversy at the end of a day on which thousands of people from all over the country defied the bitterly cold conditions to send a defiant pre-Budget message to the Government in the largest anti-austerity protest since the recession began.

Rebel Labour MEP Nessa Childers sent out a warning to party colleagues that supporting another austerity budget would be political suicide.

The protest, which brought Dublin city centre to a standstill for more than two hours, attracted groups from all over the country amid calls that the rally should be a precursor to a national strike in the new year.

Gardai estimated that over 10,000 people took part in the march. Pensioners, community groups, school children and rural pressure groups joined the major trade unions for the colourful march.

Actress Sinead Cusack joined her son, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, for the event. She said it wasn't her first protest – "and it won't be my last.

"I think it's fantastic. The great thing is that it is so representative. Rural Ireland is here in force as well as urban voters," she said.

Gardai claimed they had been told from early in the week that some protesters intended to break away from the peaceful and lawful march.

They say the information indicated that a number of groups, including members of republican group Eirigi, various anarchist groups and others who termed themselves 'anti-globalist', were intent on taking the protest a step further than merely marching.

Gardai said there was an intention to hijack the peaceful march to mount a "Greek-style" riot and 18 garda vans were used to provide transport for gardai – an unusually large number of such vehicles for a demonstration.

However, the march was good humoured and there was no sign of trouble as it was led off by a "horse of austerity" followed by a lone drummer.

There was a sense of pageantry too with children carrying mock tombstones with inscribed "epitaphs" of doomed services and projects that have been killed off by government cuts.

Though a large protest had been expected, the numbers surpassed the organisers' expectations. While the first groups had walked from the Garden of Remembrance, the length of O'Connell Street and on to D'Olier Street and College Green, some marchers had not left the starting point.

Addressing the crowd, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said: "Today's demonstration must only be the start of an escalating campaign of resistance against the plans of the Government and the troika to heap further disastrous austerity onto the backs of ordinary people in this country.

"One-off demonstrations are not enough to stop the juggernaut of austerity. We must signal today our determination to step-up protests across the country and begin to prepare for a nationwide general strike in the spring," said Mr Boyd Barrett.

Sunday Independent