17 December, 2014

Moments of Irish protest

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Category: Country review, European Action Week, Opinion
Gubaz Koberidze
8 am


Written by: Aileen Donegan

December 10 is Human Rights Day. On this day, in Ireland, we’ve chosen it to march towards of Government HQ on Kildare Street in protest over water charges – the State’s new tax, set to begin early 2015. The growth of people power and grassroots activism is a positive sign of Ireland’s citizens’ fight for human rights.

It’s been a controversial topic. Should we be taxed for water? We already pay general taxes towards our water consumption. Those in support of water charges say it will mean our country will rightfully conserve water, like we always should have done but haven’t. Those against say that it’s another tax that will unfairly attack the poorest in our society. It’s a tax to raise money for the problems our ailing banks created during the crash. It’s taxpayer money to repay our debts in Europe.

There is a legitimate fear that the Government will turn Irish Water, the State body developed to oversee the procedure of installing water meters to all houses in the Republic of Ireland, into a private ‘for profit’ company. Some fear the higher echelons of society will commodify water, turning a basic human right to clean and safe water into a pay-as-you-go credit-based product. If you can’t pay, your taps will turn to a mere trickle of H20.

I’m not sure the choice for this protest was chosen for its internationally recognized day, but it marks a turning point for Irish protesters. Whatever stance you take, no one can deny that this year alone has seen some of the most effective people power movements in our little island. Some of these moments make me feel proud, other moments of protest, that start out positively, have ended up with unjustifiable violence – disgusting actions of hate toward our politicians, which some don’t even see as human beings anymore.

Take, for instance, the incident last month: our deputy Prime Minister, Tánaiste Joan Burton became trapped in her car for up to two hours because protestors surrounded her vehicle chanting, intimidating and taking the air from her car’s tyres. She had to be escorted quickly to another car by the police amid a fraction of angry protestors who, in my own opinion, just wanted anarchy, not change. It’s times like this that I’m not proud to be an Irish citizen.

A stoic and civilized moment of protest, however, has been a long time coming. It’s quite welcome now. When we hit the crash Irish citizens fell into a downward spiral of media fear mongering. We became lacklustre and fearful, on the brink of paralysis; we made little impact on political policy because we were so tired of taking the hits. Sure there were protests, but nothing close to the level of marchers to several of our Irish Water protests this year.

Early October, for example, saw thousands upon thousands of mobilised citizens spring into action against water charges on Dublin’s iconic O’Connell Street. It forced the Irish Government to make a U-turn in its approach to Irish Water. They made some changes to policy i.e. they stalled the date for water charges coming into effect, and they reduced the water charge rate. Both of these changes would NOT have happened had the citizens of Ireland kept quiet about their feelings.

This is what positive change looks like. More, I expect, is to come as we take to the streets this Human Rights Day.

Our Prime Minister, Taoiseach Enda Kenny also faces a no confidence vote to coincide with the protest. December 10 will be a big day for Ireland, no matter what.

I’m proud that Ireland has the freedom to protest – which is not a reality for many citizens and their countries across the globe. We’re fighting back because we can. We live in a democracy. Even though we despise some of the choices our Government makes, we can call them out for it and make our feelings known.

I’m hoping for an energised, positive and peaceful journey towards change in Ireland. I hope everyone protesting today is looking toward the same journey. Keep it safe and keep it clean. Ireland, let’s work towards our human rights this Human Rights Day.

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