This post originally appeared in VICE UK
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Dublin yesterday to show their anger at a government. They were protesting to show that they're not happy to pay extra charges for their water—an issue that has galvanized feeling against austerity in general.
Community groups made up of young families and pensioners marched into the city center peacefully chanting and singing. The city slowly ground to a halt as protest groups from all over the country merged in the heart of the capital near Nassau Street just beside Trinity College.
Figures for the protests range wildly. Protest groups claimed up to 100,000, while the Irish state broadcasters said it was in the ballpark of 30,000.
While the protesters cracked jokes with immobilized bus drivers, the police gathered their muscle to show everybody who was in change.
The Public Order Unit (riot squad to you and me) closed off nearby Kildare Street, the entrance to Ireland's main parliamentary building, Leinster House. People shouted abuse at the layers of cops facing them under the banner of the Eviction Task Force, a group that stops bailiffs from kicking poor people out of the their homes.
People gathered outside the main entrance to Leinster House and the police blocked them from going any farther, which really riled everyone up. I turned around to chants of "Fuck the pigs, the fascist bastards" only to find a little old lady, banner in hand, screaming at the cops.
While the pensioners yelled at the police, the main body of protesters gathered at a stage set up on the other side of Leinster House by Right2Water—the protest's organizers.
Speakers from community groups rallied the crowd, screaming "traitors" at the politicians in the parliament building beside them. Brendan Ogle, a controversial union boss and Russell Brand's new BFF, was the emcee, and he joked with the protesters over their signs, such as, "I've given up sex, the government fuck me every day." Irish acts performed songs and people read poetry while Brendan took the piss out of the government locked into the building beside them. In a brief moment of quiet, the crowd paused to remember Jonathan Corrie, a homeless man who died outside the parliament last week.
Gerry Adams got on stage telling everybody that no one would give them their rights—Irish people have to take them for themselves, he said. Adams leads the newly poll-topping Sinn Féin and is possibly one of the most polarizing figures in Irish politics. Many looked at the ground uncomfortably while others chanted, "Go Gerry, go Gerry" à la Jerry Springer.
The protest was an angry but a relatively family-friendly affair with its fair share of old people and children. Still, the police seemed like they were expecting Armageddon. This is probably because one young joker let the air out of a minister's tires a few weeks ago in Dublin. This led much of the Irish media to claim that the entire protest movement was infiltrated by a "dissident" and "sinister element," which in turn led to a boycott of Independent News Media (INM)—the country's biggest media company. INM is partly owned by Irish mega-mogul Denis O'Brien, the closest thing the country has to a oligarch. One of his companies also owns the water metering company and another even owns the barriers that separated the police from the protesters outside Leinster House.
At one point, historian Lorcan Collins compared O'Brien to William Martin Murphy, a famous anti-trade unionist and Ireland's first press baron who "locked" workers out of employment for unionizing. Veteran leftie Claire Daly said we could tell our children and grandchildren about how we helped change Ireland. Nobody needed to as they were all there, eating crisps surrounded by the riot squad.
In the midst of nostalgic historical banter and bawdy signs, Gerry Adams stopped to take a selfie with a guy dressed as Santa Claus with a giant tap on this head.
Back on Kildare Street the cops arrested a guy for jumping over the barricades while the crowd shouted "Enda Kenny, not a penny," referring to the prime minister. The public order unit must have been disappointed as they went back to waiting for something to happen.
Paul Murphy from the Socialist Party and Mary Lou McDonald from Sinn Féin spoke to a more subdued crowd in Merrion Square. It's interesting to note Murphy was one of the few politicians to come out against the water tax—Mary Lou and other Sinn Féin members were happy to pay it until public discourse changed.
The protest spilled over to other parts of the city with people blocking the Quays and O'Connell Street, much to the disgust of Ireland's top drag queen Panti who tweeted that everyone should let the commuters go home.
The police followed the protesters down to O'Connell Street, where minor clashes occurred between the handful of protesters and dozens of cops.
The recent protests represent years of austerity and Irish fury at their current political landscape. Political polls show Sinn Féin is in the lead yet if a snap election was called independent candidates would comprise a huge part of Irish Parliament, showing a marked shift to the left.
Brendan Ogle spoke to me about the political future of a people who have lost faith in their leaders: "The party system has failed people, and that's why there are so many independents coming forward. The left has been demonized in this country for too long. You never hear people talk about the 'radical right' and there's a lot more lunatics on that side," he said.
The disaffection doesn't seem to be going away—instead it's growing. It's manifesting itself with people turning away from the two main political parties— Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael—standing as candidates and on the streets as well. The next national protest has been scheduled for January 31.
Follow Norma Costello on Twitter.