Kevin Higgins is a writer – who I satire as Poet Biggins – with whom I have had my issues (Boobgate and all that!), but even he hits it on the nail every now and then, and I thought of one of his verses (A Brief History of Those Who Made Their Point Politely and Then Went Home ) when at the barrier to Kildare Street, where the protesters were banned from, where the rally should have been, at the front door of our national parliament.
The permitted area was the back door – the official assembly area at Merrion Square.
What really galls me about this, is that in a few weeks, all going to plan, Love Ulster are back in town. You know, Willie Frazer and the more extreme elements of the Orange Order, coming to Dublin to tell us croppies to lie down. They will get Garda protection, and will get to the front door.
I followed the crowd, and it wasn’t only that that galled me. Half way down, stewards started telling folk the rally was cancelled in Merrion Square, but back up at the GPO… so half the crowd turned back, leading to mass confusion, and sowing the seeds of the anger that exploded on O’ Connell Bridge.
I went to Merrion Square, and the usual showboat was out. Ireland has an interesting way of dispersing crowds, tell them to stay!!!! Then put on music some will like but most wont, and hey presto, the crowd disperses!
That happened at the last SIPTU march I was at, all the music was for the young, the old got bored and fucked off. It happened again in Merrion Square. The acts were good, dont get me wrong, and there was a bit of poetry too from Sarah Clancy, and it was the first time Id heard her read, and she has the same reading style as Stephen Murphy, and an evocative message to deliver.
Im trying to find it on Youtube to do her justice.
Clare Daly gave a rousing speech, after a few words from Gerry Adams. The crowds started to disperse as the rap acts took the stage, and I wandered back too, and came upon Kildare Street en route. And it wasnt the rabble we were led to believe, but ordinary decent people angry they could not protest at the front gate, but are pushed out of site to the back door where our German neighbours cannot see us, a situation I parodied in my prose poem “Being The Embarrassing Relations“
Two hundred odd protestors held the street, faced off by around 100 guardai uniformed. Things were grand until the riot squad showed. Word spread, the mood turned ugly, a volley of missiles went over the barrier, and a surge started. One Garda was struck in the face by a bottle, and one man was arrested.
More scuffles started as offending banners about “Stop Garda Brutality” were confiscated.
Things calmed down. The riot squad stayed on the street, massed. Then vanloads came from Dame Street direction, to a chorus of boos as a welcome, and over the course of the next hour, surrounded the crowd. A short – hour or hour and a half long sit down protest ensued, of which less than a dozen were involved. Of course Carty never misses a chance to sit down – my second of the day, the first being when the stewards told us to turn back to the GPO, which was abandoned when we were told we could in fact go to Merrion Square – and I really thought Id have free lodgings in the Joy for the night, and free dental work at the toe of a Garda boot before the night was over!
The Eirigi lads had a different opinion, and standing, they linked arms so the guards didn’t get near us.
The guards changed tactics, and surrounded the crowd at the edges, but a solid line at the back cut the crown in half. The isolated section on the road drifted away, and one by one the sit downers gave up, I being one of the last three. I like my seat, even if it is the street!
Over the hours, the word came in of trouble on O’ Connell Bridge, and a lot of the anarchists and Eirigi activists dispersed. Eventually, a hard core element remained, of ten or so. A woman and her man from Ballyfermot, another couple and me, and a couple of sisters from Bray, who gave out biscuits which were the most beautiful Id ever eaten as Id eaten nothing since 11am.
Protesting in the cold is hungry business!
One of the most surreal occurrences of the night then unfolded, as a homeless man walked to the barriers, pointed at the guards, shouting “You go home!”… then pointing to each of us in the face, and saying the same to us, lecturing us all!!! Then the tragedy of the situation hit us, this was one of the neighbours of the man who died, Jonathan Corrie, and being homeless he sleep in doorways. And his doorway was on this street. So, thanks to our protest, he was now doorless as well as homeless. Now that brought all the issues into focus for us. But there was little we could do.
A few other drunks showed up and gave grief that wasn’t needed, but by and large once the anarchists and Eirigi had left, the mood lightened to a jovial one, and relations with the guards improved.
There was a girl there who kept coming up with alternative words for popular songs appropriate to the protest. She was fantastic, by favourite being, “Let us through down the street / So I can go home and get my dinner”, one of the most unusual ones I ever heard!
Most of the guards were grand. One – shoulder number L155 – kept his scarf over his face, as his colleagues on our side of the barrier told protesters to remove theirs.
Most protesters didn’t hide their faces with scarves. I was wearing my Red Star Belgrade scarf (you honestly didn’t expect me to wear a normal one, did you????) but always made sure I was identifiable, and peaceful, but direct.
I led chants of “Were citizens not criminals” when uniformed back up came, but after a while the existing staff changed over, and all was calm.
But then things darkened, as the Boys in Black came back. The riot squad with dog units once more assembled on the street. I asked the Sergeant why, as we were peaceful. He tried to plamaous me with “They’re only getting exercise”. Not on my head they’re not I said, and explained we are peaceful, from all walks of life, and why I for one was protesting, and mentioned the Love Ulster thing too. He was grand, promised nothing, but twenty odd minutes later they dispersed to chants of “Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio!!!”
We stayed at the barriers till 9:30pm, at which time three others and I left, but a few more had gathered. We explained to the guards we wanted a symbolic walk, at which we could be escorted up and back down, to the gates of Leinster House, have a few photos, stay a few moments, and we would go home. But it was not allowed, due they said to the trouble on O’ Connell Street.
Standoff @ #kildarestreet A photo posted by Thomas Carty (@tomjcarty) on
If the smart alecs hadn’t turned the crowd during the protest, O Connell Street would never have happened.
All this brought a point to me. one thousand people off shut down the city. Ten held one street against 30 odd guards and the riot squad. We are powerful, moreso when peaceful. We dont need to cross the barriers, they put them up, we man them, so they cant take them down. We change shifts of people manning them on a 24 hour basis, and keep the protest ongoing for months if need be. On ALL the streets around the Dail itself.
As the original call – not of the official (collaborative?) Right2Water movement – on Facebook was to surround the Dáil, which I think led to the over reaction we witnessed.
We will be back, and the idea above may be a plan for it. Officially it is Jan31 for the next protests, but there are intermediary protests in the meantime too.