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Andrew Lynch: Tide may be going out for anti-water charge campaign

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Anti Water Charges Protesters and Gardai clash at the junction of Nassau street and Kildare street

Anti Water Charges Protesters and Gardai clash at the junction of Nassau street and Kildare street

Irish Water protest, December 10.

Irish Water protest, December 10.

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Anti Water Charges Protesters and Gardai clash at the junction of Nassau street and Kildare street

Was it the last sting of a dying wasp? Maybe so, but yesterday's Right2Water rally in central Dublin still contained plenty of venom.

Despite repeated pleas from organisers, the event was marred by ugly scenes from a small thuggish element - leaving the Government quietly confident that middle Ireland is finally moving its way.

Water bottles thrown at gardai, giving one a nasty facial wound. Protesters trying to crowd through a barrier at the end of Kildare St. The air turned blue with foul and aggressive language. No wonder that some peaceful campaigners quietly left the scene, presumably deciding that they had better things to do with their time.

Just like the GPO in Easter 1916, there will be bitter disputes over exactly how many were there. Even if you accept the Garda Siochana's lower figure of 30,000, however, this was still a decent turnout for a freezing December week day.

The presence of Glen Hansard and Damien Dempsey provided a bit of star power, but too many politicians such as Gerry Adams just gave tired renditions of their greatest hits - and sadly Russell Brand failed to act on his hint that he might pop over and lead an Irish revolution.

Brand also declared his preference for Irish protests because they have "better songs and better vibes". True, there was plenty of colour on display yesterday and slogans such as the Shane MacGowan-quoting, "Happy Christmas me arse, I pray God it's your last!"

By the end of the day, however, they had been overshadowed by reports of injuries, arrests and traffic gridlock.

Right2Water's basic problem is that they set the bar too high. In recent days some of their leaders lost the run of themselves, predicting that a monster march of 200,000 or more would finally bring the coalition to its knees.

A few seemed to believe that if they shouted loud enough, Enda Kenny might come crawling out of Government Buildings and announce his resignation there and then.

As a result of all this wild talk, yesterday's protest ended up as a bit of an anti-climax. Despite all the sound and fury from various guest speakers, it is hard to say what (if anything) the event actually achieved.

Right2Water spokespeople are starting to sound like Comical Ali, Saddam Hussein's information minister who claimed victory even as US troops were entering Baghdad.

The Government now has a few reasons to feel confident. After last month's revised water charges package, the bills will be less than half of what people originally feared.

In January, meanwhile, most workers are due to start getting a tax cut that should pay the new charge several times over.

Right2Water may have whipped up an impressive crowd yesterday, but it pales in comparison to the 950,000 customers who have already registered with Irish Water. That figure is reportedly rising by around 5,000 every day.

There is every reason to believe that water charges will eventually become like the smoking ban and plastic bag levy, things that Irish people love to grumble about but reluctantly accept.

Of course, nobody can be sure of this until the first bills arrive in April 2015. Right2Water are still pinning their hopes on a mass boycott that may be too big for the courts to handle and could throw Irish Water into chaos.

VICTORY

If the campaign's leaders have any sense, however, they will not put a precise figure on how many hold-outs are needed to claim victory - because yesterday's march proved that maths is not really their strong point.

In some ways, Right2Water can feel proud of themselves. Over the last few months they have captured a wave of public anger, giving the Government a real scare and forcing it to make a series of embarrassing u-turns.

Unfortunately, they also gave a real hostage to fortune by insisting that only the abolition of Irish Water will make them happy - because that's something even Santa Claus probably can't deliver.

Yesterday was not exactly a damp squib, but it did show that Irish governments are not defeated on the streets. Enda Kenny's enemies would be better off working to beat him through the ballot box instead.


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