Cianan Brennan: The prospect of further protests to come will give government sleepless nights

If no one had shown up on Saturday the Government could have been forgiven for dismissing the protest as a storm in a teacup. It is unlikely to be feeling that way in the protest’s aftermath, particularly if there is more to follow
Cianan Brennan: The prospect of further protests to come will give government sleepless nights

Thousands of people march to Merrion Square in Dublin on Saturday afternoon in a protest against the Cost of Living. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

It’s early days, but at the very least you could say that Saturday’s protest in Dublin was a more than fair start for those protesting against the cost-of-living crisis.

While initially the numbers present looked disappointing from the point of view of the organisers, it quickly became clear that the crowd size was expanding at a rate of knots.

By 3.30pm it stretched more than the length of O’Connell Street and then some. When it came to a halt on Merrion Square an hour later, a sea of people was in attendance.

The crowd size metric was always going to be key to this event — the larger the better from the point of view of the wide-ranging coalition, for whom last decade’s water charges protests are the clear aspiration point.

That movement also had relatively inauspicious beginnings. By the time it was finished two years later in 2016 it had forced an embarrassing climbdown on the Government of the day. And those charges have never been introduced.

If no one had shown up on Saturday the Government could have been forgiven for dismissing the protest as a storm in a teacup. It is unlikely to be feeling that way in the protest’s aftermath, particularly if there is more to follow.

Protesters gathered at Parnell Square in Dublin. Picture Sam Boal/ RollingNews.ie
Protesters gathered at Parnell Square in Dublin. Picture Sam Boal/ RollingNews.ie

The cost of living coalition is one which has brought together Mica redress campaigners, the political opposition of near all hues and ideologies, senior citizens, students, the unions, and whatever you’re having yourself together for a (mostly) common purpose.

If we hadn’t stood up to water charges, what would we be paying now?

Ask those intimately involved with its organisation and they would say that 20,000 were present. Those less invested would say 5,000. From this reporter’s eye, it was probably in or around 10,000. But that is no small number, when you recall this was only the first gathering, and it was a peaceable one.

In fact, trouble from far right agitators — for whom the protest’s ideals would hold little attraction — was nowhere to be seen, although there were certainly a few familiar faces in the crowd from that particular cohort.

Perhaps the agreeable mood among the crowd, at least until the names of the three government coalition leaders were mentioned, was due to the fact that the groups present had little familiarity with each other.

For some of the speakers, Ireland's dependence on the dairy industry was the hot topic. For others, climate change is what is of most importance in the context of the energy crisis.

 People taking part in this afternoon's march. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie
People taking part in this afternoon's march. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

For veteran activist and former TD Ruth Coppinger the water charges movement is the clear template.

“If we hadn’t stood up to water charges, what would we be paying now?” she asked the crowd before the march began.

Most of the aggravation on the minds of the crowd was to be seen in the placards held by those in attendance who were not obviously affiliated with any of the gathered groups.

“Why will my children never have a home? Because the Government doesn’t care,” read one.

“Make landlords afraid,” said another in a rather more worrying fashion. Landlords indeed were probably the grouping the crowd appeared to have most animosity for — not unsurprising given the number of students present for whom the current accommodation crisis is no joke.

"This budget is make or break for all of us,” Beth O’Reilly, president of the Union of Students of Ireland, told the crowd, adding her appreciation for the “amazing display of solidarity” on show.

“People power is the only thing that will make this Government act,” she proclaimed.

 Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie
Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

Should Tuesday’s budget not deliver for people who are feeling the pinch more keenly than ever — and this amid a housing crisis frightening in its scale — then it’s not hard to imagine further protests with many multiples of those present on Saturday showing up.

And the thought of multiple repeat protests across the coming winter could be enough to give the ruling coalition sleepless nights.

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