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.