Large protest in Dublin against Gardai brutality

May 9 2002

After two days when the first item on the evening TV news was the brutal Gardai attack on a Reclaim the Streets party it was not surprising that thousands joined a rally against police brutality outside Pearse St police station on Thursday night. The protest passed off peacefully despite paranoia from some quarters that there was 'bound to be trouble'.

Anti Gardai brutality demonstration in Pearse st
Pic:Section of crowd at Pearse st

There had also been considerable controversy on Indymedia and then national state radio. The group calling the protest, Globalise Resistance, which is run by the Socialist Workers Party, had been implying they were the organisers, at least in part, of Mondays Reclaim the Streets party. In fact the SWP are hostile to the whole anti-authoritarian ethos of Reclaim the Streets (RTS) and there was no GR involvement in the organisation of Mondays party. By Wedensday's Joe Duffy show GR had dropped the claim to be among the RTS organisers.

When GR announced a speaker line up on Indymedia that seemed to almost entirely consist of politicians standing in next weeks elections there was further outrage. Most of the RTS organisers are anarchists are were not at all happy with a line up that so blatantly contradicted what they stood for. There followed much talk of pieing and provocation.

Mock RTS cops
Pic: Support the Gardai, beat yoursef up

But credit to RTS that despite their annoyance with the manner in which the demonstration had been called they responded to calls to boycott it by saying that it was essential that as many as people as possible turn up. This defused the situation and turned what could have been a very damaging situation with 'rival' demonstrations into one united demonstration. To GR's credit shortly before the demonstrations they also invited speakers from RTS, Indymedia and the WSM. The fact that the Labour Party speaker never showed and that neither the GR/SWP chair or the SWP speaker were electoral candidates probably also helped calm things down on the night.

As it was the turn out caught everyone by surprise, one unfortunate consequence was the speakers were trying to talk to a crowd of 1,500 through a megaphone rather then a PA with the result that many people could not hear what was being said. Speakers were law professor and abortion rights activist Ivana Bacik, Green Party electoral candidate Kieren Cuffe (who, missing the mood rather badly, demanded 'better training' for the cops), Sinn Fein electoral candidate Daithi Doolan, Amanda(?) for Indymedia, Socialist Workers Party leader Kieren Allen, Socialist Party electoral candidate Joe Higgins, Andrew Flood for the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement, an Irish Council for Civil Liberties speaker whose name I missed and then finally Fergal read out a statement on behalf of RTS.

Speakers at the rally
Pic: Speaking at the rally

The actual organisers of the Reclaim the Streets party did not want to be identified as they feared Gardai harassment. Just that afternoon an activist had been arrested by Gardai on O'Connell St while putting up RTS posters for the demonstration that evening!

When I spoke I emphasised that what happened on Dame St was not a few cops out of control but fully consistent with actions earlier that day (when other protesters were beaten up and arrested out of camera shot) and with Gardai attacks on demonstrations earlier in the year. This came in part from the need capitalist globalistion has for increased control of the population. The 'race to the bottom' it leads to means a loss of job security, wages, healthcare and education for many and so is bound to breed both organised and spontaneous resistance. In the US the point at which the gap between rich and poor started widening in the 1970's was also the point at which the prison population started increasing from 200,000 to the current 1,400,000.

Anti police brutality rally
Pic:Another section of the crowd at Pearse st

The Gardai assault on Dame street was not carried out by a couple of cops down a dark alley some Friday night. There were at least 60 of them including senior officers in broad daylight on a main street. This showed that whether or not the level of brutality was ordered it was certainly the case that those carrying it out, in full view of senior officers did not expect to get into any trouble for doing so

For that reason we should not be satisfied by action against the couple of Gardai caught battering protesters on camera. The top cops were responsible, we should be looking for action against them. And more importantly the increase in Gardai harassment of demonstrations is related to the introduction of the draconian Public Order Act, we should demand its abolition.

Stop police brutality rally
Pic: Yet more the crowd (the Gardai claimed there were only 400 present!!)

Although the crowd clearly wanted a peaceful rally there were some individuals who obviously felt we should go further. A couple of people around the speakers area kept shouting 'what are you going to do about it' and were quite annoyed when the demonstration moved off to march up Dame St. While that level of anger is quite justified it would not have been acceptable to invite people along to a peaceful demonstration and then trap them in an attempt to tear down Pearse St police station! But there is a clear warning for the Gardai here, if there behaviour does not change then it is inevitable that more and more people will feel that they need to organise themselves for future demonstrations in order to defend the demonstration from Gardai attack. Police attacks on strikers in 1913 Dublin resulted in the formation of the Irish Citizens Army which initally armed itself with hurleys against such baton charges.

A lot of effort had gone into making placards and banners for the demonstration and it was nice to see so much colour and variation as opposed to the normal mass produced identical placards typical of Dublin demonstrations. In terms of banners I was very please to see one from the Irish Travellers organisation Pavee Point there. Travellers have traditionally taken the brunt of Gardai assaults something racist settled society find not only acceptable but too often desirable. Some Travellers were saying that as recently as Monday the Gardai had carried out a violent eviction with several injuries and arrests as a result. With the new racist act that turns a 24 hour tresspass into a criminal offence it seems in the short term at least Travellers are going to be faced with more and more violent evictions.

Pic: Pavee point banner

As we marched up Dame street large numbers of people joined in bringing the size of the demonstration up to 2,500 or 3,000. Amusingly the Gardai reported a figure of 400 for the demonstration, they obviously don't want to believe that many people could protest against them.

Anti police placards
Pic: Placards at Pearse st

The march went into the Civic Offices park. The last time I had been there was on Monday night when 200 of us were being surrounded by dozens of Gardai with dogs and batons drawn so it was a welcome chance to reclaim that sport. Things were a bit confused here as on arrival the GR/SWP stewards made a big deal of trying to get people to disperse straight away, It turned out they had already made a deal with the Gardai that we would do so. A number of people felt this deal was inappropriate, it presumably came out of the paranoia about violence that was around in advance of the demonstration.

Civic officers in Dublin
Pic: At the civic offices

Overall this demonstration left most of us with a very positive feeling. There were important lessons to be learnt from the mistakes made in the organising of it. But the large numbers that turned up showed that people were prepared to come out in greater number rather then be frightened off by Mondays Gardai attack. However we must find ways to keep the pressure on and in particular to try and strip from the Gardai the additional powers they gained with the Public Order Act. At the end of the day though, the Gardai exist as a force controlled by the state not primarily to protect the citizens, but rather to protect capitalist property relations and to keep the citizens in line. Reforms like an independent Ombudsman would be welcome but they obviously won't tackle the fundamental problem of capitalism!

Useful links

Mainstream med

Careful now

[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement members of an event they took part in or attended, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.

Using these pictures: If you want to use these pictures for the web or other publications then please credit them as follows : Workers Solidarity Movement,

If you normally pay for pictures through an agency or freelance photographer then we request the same fee (which will go to our international solidarity fund) as we don't want to do anyone out of a job! The versions on the web are compressed versions of the originals, if you are using them for printed publication you should email us with the picture titles so we can email you the higher quality versions.

To the News of Irish struggles Index

Part of the pages of the
Workers Solidarity Movement

[Main Index][About WSM][Join]
[Contact Us][Publications][Position papers]