Monday 22 July 2019

Philip Ryan: 'Gardai play spot the yellow vest as angry brigade stay at home'

The 'Not My Taoiseach' demo almost drew more conspiracy theorists than protesters, writes Philip Ryan

A protester at a Not my Taoiseach protest on Molesworth Street outside Leinster House. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
A protester at a Not my Taoiseach protest on Molesworth Street outside Leinster House. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A solitary protester approached the garda barrier on Kildare Street last Tuesday afternoon with all the intensity of William Wallace facing down the English at the Battle of Falkirk.

Instead of war paint, he wore a motorcycle helmet. He crouched his legs slightly, extended his arms and let out a primeval roar.

Moments earlier, he shouted "p****s" at a group of gardai who prevented him from walking through a cordon at the Molesworth Street entrance to Leinster House.

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The officers looked on uninterested. The handful of other protesters who showed up for the 'Not My Taoiseach' demonstration also looked on slightly bemused by the protester's antics.

However, undeterred by the ambivalence to his theatrics, the protester returned minutes later and smashed his motorcycle helmet on the street before storming off. The visor went flying as the helmet bounced along the concrete. It was quite the show.

Unfortunately the statement was somewhat undermined when he returned within minutes to pick up his now broken helmet. This was the highlight of the first yellow vest protest outside Leinster House. The movement was inspired by the violent 'gilets jaunes' demonstrations in France and gardai were prepared for a big turnout.

All entrances to Kildare Street were blocked off and more than 30 gardai were deployed to police the event.

But in reality there was no event to police.

Previous protests by the mixed bag of protesters saw bigger turnouts including an event yesterday outside the Custom House in Dublin city centre.

The views of some of those who attended the protest outside Leinster House seemed to be scraped from the bottom of the internet.

One demonstrator insisted former US president George W Bush had recently been arrested and was being secretly held captive in Guantanamo Bay.

He also believed Madeleine McCann was kidnapped by a senior figure in the Democratic Party called John Podesta who is a close supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Podesta found himself wrapped up in an internet conspiracy called 'Pizzagate' during the presidential elections. There are not enough column inches to explain the online controversy here, but suffice to say it's fairly bonkers.

Another protester outside Leinster House said the Government was poisoning young girls by giving them the HPV vaccine which prevents certain cancers.

Predictably enough, the mainstream media was accused of ignoring all of the issues mentioned above.

There appears to be some confusion as to where the Irish yellow vest movement sits on the political spectrum. There have been anti-immigration and far-right sentiments expressed at rallies.

But there is very little, if any, appetite for far-right politics in Ireland. A few laughable organisations have popped up over the years but are mostly treated with disdain by the public.

Similarly, self-described far-left activists are anxious to pin their colours to the international movement. However, they seem to be getting lost in the miasma of their counterparts on the other side of the political spectrum.

Even the far-left parties in Leinster House are steering clear of the protest movement.

These groups barely capitalised on the recession and are going to find themselves increasingly squeezed as the economy returns to better health.

They will have a voice but they are destined to remain on the fringes of Irish politics. However, they realise the yellow vests are not going to make them relevant.

Even the so-called socialists in Sinn Fein are coming around to the ways of capitalism when it comes to their own salaries.

Violent protests are rare in Ireland. Even during the austerity years, mass street protests rarely turned overly nasty.

The Greeks looted and clashed with police when their country was crippled by the crash.

In Ireland, people did protest. Thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against new taxes, bank bailouts and water charges. But for the most part, the protests were peaceful and dignified.

And a violent uprising is unlikely to be caused by a handful of protesters spouting conspiracy theories and throwing their protective headwear around the streets. But I could be wrong.

Sunday Independent

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