Ireland: Gov't thrashed in by-elections as huge march protests water charges

October 19, 2014
About 100,000 took part in a march against water charges on October 12. Photo from

Huge crowds demonstrated against water charges on the streets of Dublin's city centre on October 12 as voters delivered a stunning message of “no confidence” to the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government in two by-elections.

Traffic in Dublin’s city centre came to a standstill due to the unprecedented scale of the anti-austerity march. About 100,000 people took part in the march, which took one hour and twenty minutes to pass the Spire in O’Connell Street.

The rally was organised by Right2Water against a government measure to introduce charges for water usage, which has been free for domestic users.

Brendan Ogle, a spokesperson for the group, said: “In the past, on various other issues, we have seen situations where there have been protest, and nothing else.

“This is one step [in] people power mobilising against a government that has abandoned them. [They] are trying to turn our human right to water into a commodity to be sold. I think people are resisting this all around the country, and today, it’ll be visible on the streets.”

The march featured banners from communities across Dublin, as well as trade unions Mandate, Unite, the CPSU, the Communication Workers Union and the plasterers’ union, OPATSI. Banners were present from political groups such as Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, People Before Profit, socialist republican group eirigi and others.

There was huge anger directed at Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as well as the Labour Party. Among the chants were, “Enda in your ivory tower, this is called people power” and “From the rivers to the sea, Irish water will be free”.

Placards read: “Sold out by our own Government”; “Stick your water meters up your arse”; and “Can’t pay, won’t pay”.

There was also anger directed at the mainstream media, which many protesters pointed out had been ignoring anti-water meter protests around the country.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett asked the crowd: “Will we pay the water charges?” The crowd responded loudly: “No, no, no.”

Boyd urged people to take part in planned national demonstrations on November 1. “Today we brought Dublin to a standstill. On November 1st we will bring the country to a standstill.”

The crowd was also addressed by Independent socialist TD Clare Daly, Sinn Fein councillor Daithi Doolan, Jimmy Kelly of the Unite trade union and community activist John Bisset.

As the marchers were making their voices heard, the results of two by-election has confirmed a huge swing to socialist, republican and anti-establishment candidates.

In both the Dublin South-West and Roscommon South-Leitrim constituencies, a transformed Irish electoral process sent a radical message to the coalition government.

In both constituencies, the combined vote for the three traditional establishment parties ― Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour ― underwent an unprecedented collapse, falling to 45% in Roscommon/South Leitrim and to just 26% in Dublin South-West.

In Dublin South-West, Sinn Fein’s Cathal King was narrowly pipped for a seat by Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party, running for the SP-established Anti-Austerity Alliance. King topped the poll until the final count, and only with “transfers” from Fine Gael and a conservative independent candidate, did Murphy pull ahead.

Many political commentators have suggested Sinn Fein’s relatively quiet campaign against water charges had allowed support to leak towards the more activist socialist candidate. However, the result was in many ways a carbon copy of the Dublin West by-election in May, when Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party pipped Sinn Fein’s Paul Donnelly, again on right-wing transfers.

King admitted Sinn Fein’s policy on water charges confused some voters. He said voters had been confused by his party pledging to abolish water charges if in government, but saying they would keep Irish Water in operation funded through general taxation.

He also noted that Sinn Fein leaders made conflicting statements in recent weeks about whether they would agree to pay the charges. The Socialist Party made easy capital from such mixed messages as water “sign-up” forms began filtering through post boxes in the constituency. They vowed they would abolish water charges and the Water Board if in government, and have openly urged people to boycott their water bills and join a campaign of non-payment.

King said he was “delighted” with the first count result, and noted: “Over 60% of people have voted for parties that are against the water charges.”

The newly elected Murphy told journalists that the coalition’s claims of an economic recovery meant nothing to the people of Tallaght. He said: “Recovery is for the rich, it’s for the 1%, it’s for the elite, it’s not for the working-class people.”

In Roscommon South Leitrim, an independent associated with the alternative anti-establishment organisation headed by Luke
“Ming” Flanagan won resounding victory.

Michael Fitzmaurice, whose campaign was largely based on protecting the rights of turf cutters, won the seat. Sinn Fein’s Martin Kenny, almost doubled his party’s vote, winning 18% of the first preference vote in another huge route of the government parties.

[Abridged from Irish Republican News.]

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