Monday 26 February 2018

Troubling the water

Dundalk's Brendan Ogle has written a book detailing the Irish people's battle against water charges and it's helped prepare him for the next fight, he tells Anne Campbell

Brendan Ogle, right with Glen Hansard at the book launch
Brendan Ogle, right with Glen Hansard at the book launch
Brendan Ogle, centre, with his children and family Briege Farrell, John Ogle and Anne Kavanagh

He's as engaging and interesting as ever; as good company and as scintillating as he always was; and perhaps he's a little more cynical than he was when he first came to prominence in Ireland during a ten week train drivers' strike.

Brendan Ogle is rounding off a remarkable year with the publication last month of his book: 'From Bended Knee to a New Republic', which details the Irish people's battle against Irish Water and the foundation of the Right2Change movement.

This isn't some subedited-to-death tome that glosses over, in fancy language, what has happened in Ireland since the imposition of austerity. Indeed, Brendan's voice, his anger and passion for those who found themselves on the wrong side of government decisions positively leaps off the pages.

But in putting together this book, which is published by The Liffey Press, it has given the Unite organiser, as well as the thousands of others involved in the battle against water charges, the opportunity to take stock, look back, reflect on the achievements so far and also, perhaps more importantly, look to the future of the Right2Change movement and decide where to go from here.

'The journey set out in this book is not one that anyone can embark upon alone. Throughout it I have always felt that I have been among literally hundreds of thousands of our citizens who crave a better nation. They all have stories equally as important as this one. I just hope that my story does justice to theirs'. That's the opening page of Brendan's book, in which he sets out the pathway through everything that has happened.

But first - back to the start. It's 13 years since Brendan published 'Off the Rails', his detailed account of the Irish train drivers' strike which lasted for ten weeks and which put a massive spotlight on him, when he was aged in his mid-thirties. He's not a different man to the one who was thrust into the public domain during that campaign, but he is much wiser and far less naive than he was then.

He's learned a lot and has used that knowledge to help establish the Right2Change campaign and help in the battle against water charges.

The massive success of this campaign is the result of a unique blend of community, trade union and political activism and alternative thinking that, through Right2Water, has caught national and international attention. This book captures all the colour, noise, and excitement as a nation in 'national collective trauma' from a disastrous economic collapse finally finds its voice after years of enforced austerity.

In an interview with the Argus, Brendan said: 'When I wrote the first book, I thought we had been treated unfairly. I had been hurt by what happened, I thought we had been treated badly and I think I nearly wrote that book for therapeutic reasons'.

It was different with this book, partly because the battle against Irish Water is not finished yet. 'This one is a book mark in a campaign and we are not at the end of it yet. It's signpost for those involved in the campaign - what it's about, what we have achieved and what we need to do.

'The last book had an ending - this one doesn't. But it sets out how the water movement fits into people's lives'.

When I tell Brendan that the anger in the book almost ignites the pages sometimes, he's a little surprised, but tells me that singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, who launched the book in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, actually said the same thing.

'I have been angry at different times during the campaign when there were protests and we were getting started, particularly when people were lining up in the newspapers and the airwaves and saying: 'Ah, you don't want to pay for anything' and how the tax issue around water was described.

'Writing the book, in many ways, is also helping to get the message across. I'm passionate about it and sometimes I get angry and that comes from passion and frustration'.

One of the many things to recommend this book is Brendan's ability to steer a course through the minefield of information and events that have shaped the water campaign, which started in October 2014.

In the first 15 pages, he sets out how the collapse of the banking sector and the austerity measures implemented by the government have destroyed people's lives. He then goes on to show how water became the lightning rod for people who felt they had borne the brunt of the economic battering.

Brendan sets out how neoliberalism has become the bible by which governments, not just in Ireland but around the world, have used since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan were in power. The involvement of Americans in the Irish campaign, who used their experiences of standing against water charges in Detroit to help shape the strategy here is detailed in the book by Brendan.

He also turns his attentions to the 'damaged media' in Ireland and how this has damaged democracy.

It was the Right2 policies which had a decisive influence on the general election earlier this year. Water charges became the stick with which to beat political parties into listening to what ordinary people had to say. It was through the ballot box that things in Ireland began to change and are changing still.

Because it isn't just about water. It is about people's entitlements to basic standards of living and care in a host of other areas, including health, housing and education. Brendan feels that the homelessness crisis could well be the new campaign.

Change is coming from the bottom up, rather than the top down. He says: 'People know the feet of the establishment are made of clay and it will take time and energy, but we are at a turning point and we are close to winning on water. Now we have a decision: was it just about water, or is this going to be the seed that will turn everything around for the better? People are waking up'.

From Bended Knee to A New Republic is available from Carrolls, Park Street and from priced €19.95 with all profits going to the North Louth Hospice, homeless and mental health awareness charities.

Irish Independent

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