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Defiant and loud, but peaceful crowd had their voices heard in mass demonstration

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Protesters at the water protest on Merrion Square.

Protesters at the water protest on Merrion Square.

Protesters at the water protest on Merrion Square.

aT first glance, Leinster House seemed impenetrable.

Dozens of gardai dressed in riot gear emerged from three double-decker buses with alsatians in tow as barriers kept thousands of chanting protesters far away from the gates of Dail Eireann and the politicians inside.

But one by one, they made a break for it. The first protester to jump the barrier was predictably apprehended by flanks of gardai as he made a dash up Kildare Street. The second one had barely placed both feet on the ground when three gardai grabbed and restrained him.

Angered

This angered those left behind. Their chants growing louder, some rocked the barrier until it began shifting back and forth, and for a moment, it looked like it might topple. However, gardai reacted calmly, standing in a line atop the barricade, disappointing the select few who had gotten a taste for anarchy.

Unlike the unfortunate scenes in Jobstown in Dublin last month, yesterday's protest went largely unmarked by scenes of violence. The mood among the people gathered at Merrion Square and its surrounding areas was defiant but positive.

Separate 'feeder protests' began their march at 11am and joined up with the main throng at 1pm in Merrion Square. The crowd swelled throughout the afternoon as the event took on a festival-like atmosphere.

Among the protesters was 37-year-old Hazel Reilly, whose husband Tom and his business partner closed down their business, Dublin City Gas, for a day so they could attend the protest.

"We're protesting everything about Irish Water. It's not about water, it's about paying back debts. It's another tax that people shouldn't have to pay," said Hazel, from Rathcoole.

Taryn Gleeson (37) from Letterkenny in Co Donegal came dressed in what she described as a "magical cape", donned with drawings of 70 friends who couldn't attend the protest.

"I put it up on Facebook that I was planning on doing this, and 70 people asked me to please include them, so I told them I was making a magical cape, and my children and I spent all last night drawing everybody's faces on my cape."

One man summed up the feeling of the crowd.

"It's like St Patrick's Day without the parade," said one man. "The atmosphere is great. There's no trouble. It's as peaceful as it can be."

There was a camaraderie among the crowds as they began to dissipate later yesterday evening with a small group keeping a presence on O'Connell Bridge.

Protesters - chanting "no way, we won't pay" - said they broke away from the main event so they would be heard.

"They were playing music at Merrion Square, they weren't listening to us," said Gareth Davis, from the group Dublin Says No.

"We came here so our voices would be heard. It's having a much bigger impact.

"One woman gave out to us, saying she was two hours stuck on a bus and that we should be ashamed of ourselves and just pay our water."

Traffic was backed up from 1pm onwards with the last of the road diversions lifted after 8.30pm.

Dozens of empty double decker buses lined the quays, Westmoreland Street and O'Connell Street, the majority with 'not in service' displays.

Red Line Luas services were also suspended between Lower Abbey Street as groups lined the junction with O'Connell Street.

Delayed

Services have also been delayed on the Green Line, with no service between Beechwood and St Stephen's Green after a motorist accidentally drove onto the track at Charlemont.

For now at least, their work was done.

Despite the ring of steel had been placed around the Houses of the Oireacthas, those inside could not have failed to hear the thousands of voices assembled in protest.

hnews@herald.ie


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