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RING OF STEEL around the city as 30,000 people take to the streets for mass wa ter protest

A RING of steel was erected around the Dail today as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against water charges.

These were the scenes which were observed by the Herald as up to 200 gardai began assembling at Collins Barracks in advance of the march, in which 30,000 people were expected to converge in the city centre.

A major security operation involving up to 700 gardai swung into action for the event.

Extra troops were drafted in as back-up to the Military Police deployed on permanent security duties within Government Buildings on Merrion Street.

Barriers

A number of roads were closed to traffic, including Kildare Street and Molesworth Street, for the event.

Hundreds of crowd-control barriers were erected and the area was heavily policed since the early hours of this morning.

Busloads of protesters began arriving in the capital from early this morning ahead of the assembly outside Leinster House on the Merrion Square side.

They came from all over the country to register their anger at the charges.

The event, described as a national assembly by organisers, kicked off at 1pm and was expected to continue until around 4pm.

Marches began from ten locations north and south of the Liffey, which were chosen by local campaign groups.

The largest body of protesters took part in marches from Harold's Cross, Heuston Station and the Garden of Remembrance between 11am and 12pm. All the marches converged at Merrion Square.

The Right2Water campaign set up a stage for what it said was as a "family-friendly event" featuring political addresses as well as musical entertainment, with performers including Sinead O'Connor.

Organisers had declined to give a figure of how many people they expected to attend in advance, but were hopeful it will draw a "decent turnout".

An anti-water charges march on November 1 drew 100,000 demonstrators to the city centre.

However, David Gibney, from the Right2Water campaign, admitted it would be difficult to get huge numbers out because it is midweek, but he urged people to join in after they have finished their work for the day.

"It's not only midweek, it's the weather, and it's the middle of winter and it's 1pm in the afternoon," he said.

"It's going to be difficult, but we'll just hope for a big turnout anyway.

"Some small businesses are closing because the owners are coming into it as well," he added.

Mr Gibney said they have "absolutely no fears" that the event will remain peaceful and will not be marred by the violence seen at similar demonstrations in recent weeks.

"If you are not going to be peaceful, don't come along. But we have absolutely no fears," he added.

The numbers who attend the protest today are being seen as significant, in determining how happy members of the public are with the Government's new measures on water charges.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has said there will be no further concessions on water charges.

He said the system being introduced now is final, and would not be further amended or influenced by protests.

However, a much larger turnout today than anticipated could spell trouble for the Government, as it means that widespread public anger has not dissipated.

The new and revised water charges were unveiled on November 19.

Meanwhile, sources said they did not believe that the protest was likely to be hijacked by a violent minority.

However, gardai were monitoring events closely amid concerns that sinister extremist elements could attempt to infiltrate the event with batons and pepper spray.

Today's security operation was coordinated from a control room in the Garda HQ building in Harcourt Square.

Officers were using live camera feeds on the ground and in the air to monitor sections of the crowd.

It is understood that gardai will be able to pinpoint any disturbances and deal with them swiftly.

Besieged

Several hundred gardai had worked through the night to create a secure environment for the planned protest outside Government Buildings.

TDs were warned not to bring their cars to the Dail in case the anti-water charges protests turn violent.

Senior officers said the event would be policed as normal with rolling road closures, depending on the number of people who turn up.

"People know that it's on, so it's up to them how they want to get into town on the day," a spokesperson said.

Gardai urged people to take a common sense approach to getting into the city centre today.

Parking restriction were in place in Merrion Square from early morning, is to provide adequate space and a safe environment for those protesting.

There were some local traffic disruptions with groups of protesters make their way to Merrion Square.

Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger said last week that the Dail will be "besieged" by the crowds today.

Meanwhile, the People Before Profit Alliance has called on people to "deregister" from Irish Water.

"I know of many people who registered over the last while and now regret having done so," said John Lyons, a councillor for the party.

"Well, anyone who now wants to reverse that registration decision can do so by simply picking up the phone and letting Irish Water know where to go."

hnews@herald.ie


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