Ireland: Amid arrests and protests, gov't demonises opponents

March 6, 2015
A large protest against new water charges in Dublin in October last year.

The Irish coalition government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party tried to turn the tables on its left-wing opponents in recent days, with efforts to portray them as “dangerous” and “anti-democratic”.

The exchanges came amid ongoing demonstrations over the jailing of anti-austerity protestors in Dublin. Five activists were ordered to be locked up by a court last month for failing to stay away from the installation of water metres.

A hunger strike by two of the men in protest at their detention was abandoned on February 23. However, plans are underway for a large public demonstration in Dublin on March 21 by opponents of the new water tax.

In an interview on February 26, Labour environment minister Alan Kelly said the protestors and their supporters sought to “create chaos and instability”.

“It’s all about creating insurrection, trying to make the country into chaos,” he said.

He was speaking after Ruth Coppinger, Socialist Party TD (member of the Dail, the Irish parliament), said water metre installers had been put in an “insidious position” but should consider the consequences of the work they carry out.

“They obviously need work, but also the community do not want the metres they are installing,” she said. “At some point, if you are doing a job you have to consider the consequences of it.”

Kelly said Coppinger’s comments “showed her true colours”.

Responding to Kelly’s remarks, Coppinger said the comments were “a slur” on the people involved in the anti-water charges movement.

“This is a tactic out of Thatcher’s handbook to try to denigrate a movement of working-class people … It is a sign of how far to the right Labour has drifted.”

Meanwhile, Fine Gael health minister Leo Varadkar argued that any government led by Irish republican party Sinn Fein, who have surged in the polls recently by opposing austerity, would involve a “rule of fear”.

Claiming Sinn Fein is run dictatorially by its officer board, he said that in a Sinn Fein-led administration, there would be “no party whip, just party chains”.

“Its members swear blind allegiance and have made worship of the party like their religion,” he said. “There would be no independent thinking in a Sinn Fein-led government, not even groupthink.

“There would be just one thought, one rule. And that would be the rule of fear.”

Varadkar was responding to criticism that he was presiding over a system of abuse and neglect of public patients in Ireland’s hospitals. There are new reports of unnecessary deaths and neglect of patients in hospitals in Dublin and Ballinasloe.

Life expectancy for those in the most deprived parts of the state is now up to two decades less than for those in more affluent areas, new statistics show.

Sinn Fein also clashed with Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny over the minimum wage and his own pay scale.

Kenny was asked about his annual pay of €185,000 at the launch of the government’s “Low Pay Commission” to advise on the minimum wage.

When asked, “Are you actually worth three-and-a-half grand a week?”, the Taoiseach responded: “Very much so”. He added: “We’ve cut everything to the bone.”

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty said the comments were “almost laughable”.

“The Taoiseach needs a reality check,” Doherty said. “A hospital system where people are lying on trolleys is ‘cut to the bone.’ People struggling to pay their mortgage are ‘cut to the bone’.

“Young people who cannot get a job in this country are ‘cut to the bone’. Those who are finding it hard to live on the minimum wage are ‘cut to the bone’.

“A salary of €185,000 is not ‘cut to the bone’.

“Not only does this show the Taoiseach’s failing grasp on reality, it also highlights a near contempt for those who are struggling to earn a living on wages which hardly pay the bills.”

Meanwhile, the case of a Donegal woman who failed to pay a fine was also being cited by Sinn Fein as an example of the government’s departure from economic realities.

The woman, who has one child in primary school, had already paid half of a €450 penalty for not paying the television license fee. But this week she was arrested in the early morning and taken hundreds of miles — by taxi — to Mountjoy prison in Dublin.

She was put in a holding cell for three hours before being released, and then handed a bus ticket back to Donegal.

Local Sinn Fein councillor Gary Doherty said it was “morally wrong” to take the woman to prison and a “criminal misuse” of Garda resources.

“When you think of the money it would cost,” he said. “This woman had to be taken to Dublin in a taxi through Sligo and Longford to Dublin. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

[Abridged from Irish Republican News.]

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