Spinning the protest

As readers of this blog know, last Wednesday there was a student protest march in Dublin, at the close of which there was an outbreak of violence as a small group of protestors attempted to occupy the Department of Finance building, from which they were ejected by Gardai (police). That much is agreed by all participants; what is in dispute is whether the break-away group of protestors started the violence, or the police. In the days after the events, several comments have been published suggesting that the protestors had behaved entirely peacefully but were attacked aggressively by the Gardai; this theme is pursued in this article published by Indymedia, and in this letter to the Irish Independent newspaper – and there are numerous other examples.

The authorities have not, as far as I know, published their version of events, but an eyewitness account by Irish Times Education Editor Sean Flynn and colleague Cian Nihill would I imagine be the most objective description of what actually happened. This account makes it clear that the protest march overall was well organised and peaceful, but it suggests that a small group of activists had joined the protest intending to play a particular role, as follows:

‘Interviewed later a student member of the Socialist Workers Party said a group from his party had met with like-minded colleagues from the Republican socialist movement Éirígí and the Free Education for Everyone movement a half-hour before the main protest began at 12.30pm. He said they all expressed their unease with the tactics of the USI and were determined to be the most vocal and high-profile protesters.’

Whatever anyone might think of the demands made by the protestors in the main march, they had and have a right to express these views publicly and to seek to persuade the public and politicians. But the public, as we know alas, is not necessarily on the side of those working and studying in our universities and colleges, and unlawful or violent conduct will tend to alienate them further. I have no idea how anyone could rationally believe that occupying the Department of Finance will help the cause, in any conceivable way. But this is how one of the comments on the Indymedia article puts it:

‘Yeah..there is a palpable feeling in the air. A tension in the psychic commonality if you will. Last wednesday’s protests seem to have given the cowering irish people the insight they needed to see that this government will even stoop to brutally assaulting and abusing people’s kids by proxy if that is what it takes to get what they want from us for themselves and their shady financial masters before they leave office. This raw protest and the paint throwing has shown people that we CAN protest in a way that has an effect that politely holding up signs and marching can never have. We need to SCARE these complacent bastards. they need to see us outside their homes, outside their meetings, outside the dail. getting MAD AS HELL and NOT WILLING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE.’

I suspect that those involved are a very small group. But they can do a lot of damage, and the victims will be higher education.

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7 Comments on “Spinning the protest”

  1. copernicus Says:

    The once world famous School of Oriented and African Studies (SOAS)of London University is now fast becoming the citadel of Socialist Worker’s Party, and not a day ends without protest meetings of some kind in its premises. SOAS is fast losing its lustre. This Party had its patrons- late Paul Foot (nephew of late Michael Foot, the Labour minister in 1960s and 70s and leader of the Labour Party for a few years in 1980s) and ofcourse Venessa Redgrave, the Oscar-winning actress of the Redgrave clan. Both are rich, millionnaires, have their large houses in the expensive Hampstead Heath in London, but were supporting this Party in many ways, I guess Venessa still does. A hardcore minority of students belonging to this Party and from SOAS occupied the Ministry of Businesss building at WhiteHall in London, a few days ago, and were ejected.

    Nothing wrong in peaceful protest, but when it becomes a daily occurence, then the other students who are interested in studies in the SOAS, move elsewhere.

  2. Lorcan Myles Says:

    There are some great quotes in the IT article you mention. I’d expect this sort of thing from the Independent.

    Quote: “But there was also a group who appeared intent on confrontation. Strikingly, some of this group did not wear the specially-designed yellow USI T-shirt.”

    Since DCU is not affiliated to USI, and t-shirts would not have been readily available to members of DCU SU, does that mean that they are also now under suspicion of being republican hijackers or troublemakers, for the crime of not wearing a t-shirt?

    Quote:”Around the fringes of the group, there appeared to be a small coterie directing events; some spoke on their mobile phones.”

    Given what was occurring, I’d suggest that a lot of people would frantically be making phone calls. The logical place to do this is on the fringe, away from the noise, and away from the prospect of being beaten.

    USI and others have regularly occupied buildings in the past, they never been target with batons, mounted horses or police dogs.

  3. Lorcan Myles Says:

    I should add that Gene Kerrigan has an excellent take on the protest in todays Irish Independent (might be worth linking to).

    Kerrigan:”The timeline published by the Irish Times shows that mounted police were deployed to coerce the crowd within five minutes of the department’s lobby being occupied.

    Within another five minutes, personnel carriers arrived with riot police. The newcomers had shields, visors and dark Robocop uniforms. Within another five minutes, the lobby was cleared. The Irish Times noted: “Some of the protesters exited with evidence of a beating on their faces.””

  4. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    What has the timeline got to do with anything?

    The relevant Gardai units (Horse/Dog/Riot) were on standby in the area – in fact probably at the Merrion Row corner of St Stephen’s Green.

    Logically they are going to be able to get to the scene quickly. If the action took place right next to the standby area, then moreso.

  5. Mark Dowling Says:

    “USI and others have regularly occupied buildings in the past, they never been target with batons, mounted horses or police dogs.”

    Your argument is this was a march like any other? I think the involvement of fringe republicans would be new for a USI march. Certainly the relevant Dail committee should be calling in the Commissioner for a report on the police decision making process but also requesting the Dept of Finance produce any CCTV footage taken from their lobby.

  6. Lorcan Myles Says:

    @Mark, Is political affiliation a reason to beat a person unconscious?

    28 complaints have been lodged to the Garda Ombudman’s Commission. Hopefully they will investigate, and the cctv footage will emerge.

    http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/1109/education.html#video

  7. Mark Dowling Says:

    @Lorcan – “@Mark, Is political affiliation a reason to beat a person unconscious?”

    No it’s not Lorcan, but clearly USI marshals had no control over those people the way they historically had over student marchers. The USI marchers were used by Eirigite provocateurs, the Gardai overreacted and students were caught in the crossfire. Or is Sean Flynn just a stooge for the Guards and Anglo-Irish-Fail in your world?


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