The sheer scale of yesterday’s water protest march in Dublin yesterday appeared to take both the organisers and the Gardaí by surprise.
The march was originally planned to start at Parnell Square at 2 pm and proceed down O’Connell Street, but by 1.30 pm the square was already full and newly arrived protesters were diverted around the Rotunda Hospital to form up. Eventually the queue stretched back as far as Dorset Street.
From O’Connell Street the intended route was across the river and down D’Olier Street before doubling back down Westmoreland Street to assemble at the GPO. In the event the Gardaí realised that the crowd was too large and that the head of the procession would collide with the middle going in the opposite direction. Barriers were opened at College Green and the march was allowed to proceed unplanned past Leinster House and on round Stephen’s Green. From here it carried on to Aungier Street, down George’s Street, and rejoined the original route back at College Green.
By the time the tail of the march had left Dorset Street the head was already at Leinster House.
The result was that traffic was brought to a standstill on both sides of the city, and many drivers found themselves immobilised as the marchers swept past. Despite this the atmosphere remained good, with many of these same motorists sounding their horns in support.
As always, it is impossible to accurately gauge the number of protesters. RTE last night quoted a Garda source at 30,000; other estimates are much higher, with many in excess of 100,000. Certainly from the ground a figure of 30,000 would appear impossibly low. Many of the protesters were critical of media coverage of the Irish Water issue, with RTE being singled out for alleged bias more than most.
Much was made, by both the protesters themselves and the speakers back at the GPO, of Joan Burton’s recent comment about protesters owning expensive iphones. One placard read “Who pays for your smartphone Joan? We do”, people defiantly waved their camera phones in the air at every opportunity. Richard Boyd-Barrett urged everyone to take selfies and email them to the Tánaiste.
Audrey Clancey, of the Edenmore Says No campaign, thanked Irish Water in a backhanded way by congratulating them on doing what no-one had managed to do before: to finally unite the people of Ireland in saying that “enough is enough”. This drew a large cheer.
Independent TD Clare Daly declared that “today is an historic day when things will finally change”, and Richard Boyd-Barrett urged everyone present to keep the momentum going by supporting the next stage of the campaign: a day of nationwide protest in all towns and villages on November 1st.