On Saturday 21 February, at two days’ notice, somewhere between eight and ten thousand people gathered in Dublin in solidarity with those water tax protesters jailed by the State and those recently arrested. They marched to Mountjoy Prison and packed the road outside it and in front of the local Garda (police station).
The crowd were addressed by relatives and friends of the jailed, anti-Water Tax campaigners as well as by Paul Murphy, Joan Collins and Clare Daly (both TDs of the United Left) and Dessie Ellis (TD of Sinn Fein).
All of the speakers denounced the politicians and the State for the jailing of the protesters while the bankers and politicians who created the crisis and colluded in the bank bailout went free. Most speakers called on the crowd not to pay the water tax and to build resistance on the streets. Dessie Ellis, in keeping with his party’s position, did not call for non-payment, though he did call for “unity of the Left”. The march was notable for the absence of SF banners and placards — apparerently they were having their own protest at Leinster House.
One of the protesters made an emotional appeal on behalf of two of the five who received jail sentences, who have gone on hunger strike, and on behalf of another, Derek Byrne, also on hunger strike, but who has declared his intention of refusing to take fluids from Monday if he is not released. (NB: Since posting that paragraph it has emerged that the demand of all three hunger-strikers is a return to Mountjoy [they had been separated and sent off to a prison facility near Clondalkin] and an end to 23-hour lockup in their cells. These are basic human rights.)
Large sections of the crowd seemed taken aback by this information and unsure how to react.
Paul Murphy pointed out that this use of the police to attack people protesting injustice has been a feature of the State since its creation and mentioned the threats of jail to striking workers, the jailing of the Rossport Five and of Margaretta D’Arcy. Clare Daly asked the Gardaí which side they were on, that of the polticians and bankers or of the people, saying that if they chose the former it is they who would become isolated, not the protesters. Joan Collins, Murphy and Daly all pointed to the need to create a socialist society. They also, along with most other speakers, called for a build up and huge turn out of support for the demonstration scheduled for March. Many speakers declared that the increased repression is a sign of the Government’s or the system’s weakness, not of their strength and called on the movement not to falter now.
Robert Ballagh, who also spoke, called for the release of the five and pointed out that the class of people who rule and profit out of this society are not those who find themselves in jails.
The mood of the crowd in general was of good-humoured determination. The composition seemed to cross social groupings, ages and genders and a number had brought their children along. Some had come from other parts of the country.