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Nicola Anderson: Long, lonely vigil for Dail protesters

THE placards are varied but the faces are constant. They are the campaigners who brave hail, rain and snow -- and perhaps worst of all, that perennial bitter wind -- to stand outside the Dail to fight what is generally a pretty disheartening battle.

Justice for a beloved sister who had fallen between the cracks of the "care system", land corruption or, more usually, the general disillusionment with the state of Irish society, their gripes span the spectrum.

Others merely disseminate information -- on topics from the fluoridation of water to computer printouts on Republicanism.

And though they might easily be dismissed by some as cranks or loonies, there is no doubting their enthusiasm or their solid unshakeable belief in what they have to say.

Despite what Bertie himself might think, having their faces on TV or being mentioned by name on radio matters not one jot to these veterans.

All they care about is getting their story out there because then, maybe, just maybe, something might eventually be done about it.

Yesterday afternoon, despite that biting wind sweeping up Kildare Street, a Labour Youth member dressed up as a chicken brandished a sign that asked: 'What's Enda Scared Of?' about the Fine Gael leader's hesitancy in taking part in a three-way debate.

Another Trinity College student said she had been taking part in every mass protest of the last few years but wished that the turnout from the general public was better.

Eamon Reid, who has stood outside the gates of the Dail for the past four years, held up his own placard: "Two Brians, One Brain."

He is delighted that this Government is drawing to its final days. He has spent a fortune on posters over the years -- but it's all been worth it, he said.

Meanwhile, eight protesters -- one on crutches -- who had been marching for nine days from Kilmacow in south Co Kilkenny, reached the end of their own campaign at the gates of Leinster House yesterday with roars of approval from the smattering of people who had gathered to cheer them on.

Each of the men had their own reasons for marching -- including the abolition of the Seanad, the halving in the number of TDs and the halving of TDs' salaries.

Brothers Kevin and John Dunphy said they had received "colossal" support from people along the way, with many old-age pensioners marching alongside them for a portion of their journey.

Veteran protester, Richard Behal, who hails from Kilmacow, said he was intensely proud that his village had set an example for the nation.

Spokesman for the group, John Kavanagh, urged people to put their grievances against the Government "in the ballot box" by voting against them.

"I hope that God will forgive Fianna Fail and the Green coalition because the men from Kilkenny won't," he said.

As the crowd dispersed, a woman with a young child rushed up to ask the whereabouts of the Kilmacow protesters.

"I've come up all the way from Co Laois because I heard them on the radio," she said.

"Well, look who it is," another woman called at the sight of Tipperary North's Michael Lowry trying to tiptoe unobserved through the gates.

He gave a discomforted smile as another elderly protester hurled a chain of multi-lingual insults in his direction.

"Get it translated, Lowry," the man said, as Lowry slipped away and the protesters gave a wry smile.

Irish Independent