All eyes on street party

HAND-HELD cameras are likely to outnumber copies of the Socialist Worker on Monday.

What they captured on Dublin's Dame Street on May 6 last year led to seven members of the gardaí being charged with assault.

Without the cameras, the public would never had known what had happened.

On Monday, Reclaim The Streets will stage their anniversary march.

Whatever happens revolution, repression or just a party it will be broadcast live.

The hand-held cameramen and women will be surrounded by a small army of television crews, photographers and journalists.

To add to the saturation coverage, a number of independent civil rights monitors will observe events.

"What happened last year was one of the worst examples of policing. We hope that's not going to be repeated," said Aisling Reidy, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

"Unfortunately, there have been one or two recent incidents which give rise to concern, mainly the one outside the Dáil."

Last month gardaí were accused by ICCL and a number of politicians of heavy-handed tactics in dispersing a sit-down protest outside the Dáil by anti-war protesters.

Gardai were criticised for deploying the public order unit in full riot gear at the scene prior to the protest.

However, other politicians, and some protesters who were there, in addition to Justice Minister Michael McDowell, supported the actions of the gardaí.

Supt Tom Conway at Pearse Street Station has the unenviable task of dealing with the Reclaim The Streets march.

He is considering having the public order unit deployed prior to any possible trouble.

"In relation to a number of protests and rallies such as this it would be the norm to have the public order unit on standby. We deployed them outside the Dáil. We are considering that option," he said.

Supt Conway's problem is that the organisers have not contacted him, and he has no way of contacting them.

"All we have are posters around the city, saying they will assemble at the GPO. It makes it very difficult for us.

"While we can plan so much, we can't plan traffic diversions, because we don't know where they are going."

He said Monday would be a busy bank holiday with a double-header at Croke Park, the main match being the National Hurling League final between Kilkenny and Tipperary.

"What's going to happen if they intend to block off streets? We would have to decide whether to move them or divert traffic around them."

It is this scenario removing protesters that could lead to confrontation.

James McDonald, one of the organisers of the protest, said there will be traffic problems as a result of their actions.

"That's a by-product of us having a party on the street. We have just as much right to the streets as the traffic does.

"Whatever way we'll reclaim the street, there will be a method for traffic to be diverted away. If there is any conflict it will be on their part."

He said any presence of public order units would only increase tension needlessly.

"There's no need for that level of policing. After they were violent last year, them showing up with the riot squad would not be helpful."

He rejected the idea of dialogue with the gardaí.

"We don't want to be giving details away to the police, because we're afraid they might shut it down before we get anywhere. We had a street party last year that guards started a fight at."

The protest itself will begin at 1.30pm at the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square, where a group called Critical Mass comprised of cyclists will gather with their bikes.

At 2pm the Reclaim The Streets "foot party" will gather down the road outside the GPO, at the Spike.

The two groupings will merge and "head towards the quays". After that, organisers won't comment on the route.

Mr McDonald said people were between two minds as to whether they should go to Dame Street.

"I can't say we'll avoid Dame Street. Some people say we should go there as a symbolic gesture. So we're not saying anything at the moment."

Mr McDonald stressed Reclaim The Streets was not aligned to political parties and that the likes of the Socialist Workers Party who dominate other groups such as Globalised Resistance and the Anti-War Movement were not part of Reclaim The Streets.

The actual purpose behind Reclaim The Streets often gets overlooked amid all the hype and talk of violence. The organisation is essentially anti-car, in favour of pedestrians and cyclists.

While protesters and gardaí may appear to be heading for a confrontation of some sort on Monday, both sides fervently hope this will not be the case.

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