Wednesday night saw another public meeting held by the Stoneybatter campaign against the bin tax, the second in a week, attended by about 45 people. After last week's solidarity blockade, this meeting focused on tactics for the immediate future. A number of practical suggestions came from the floor, several of which we hope to act upon in the coming weeks. The immediate outcome of this meeting was the decision to mount a second blockade of a bin truck the following (Thursday) morning. This proposal was agreed by virtually everybody present.
We met up outside Aughrim street church at 8 am. The truck was due at about 8:45 but we turned up early in case the council got wind of our plan and decided to change the routes. The plan was to blockade the bin truck inside the Drumalee estate. This was chosen as campaign membership is high in the area, the estate has only one entrance and it is also beside the busy North Circular road, which would make it much more visible than our last blockade on Swords St, a small side street off Oxmantown road. A crowd of about 25 people had assembled by 8:30, ready to take part in the blockade. We moved off into Drumalee to await the truck and our numbers grew as several residents came out to join us. One local woman came out of her house to offer cups of tea to everybody.
Eventually, at about 9 am, the truck arrived into Drumalee. We allowed it to reach the part of the estate adjacent to Hanlon's corner, in order to achieve maximum visibility. All together we stepped out in front of the truck and began the blockade. We explained the situation to the workers; their only request was that we try to make it as long as possible, since the previous hour-long solidarity blockade had caused them to have to work late. We assured them that we would hold the blockade for as long as we could. They turned off the engine, got out of the truck and sat down to wait on a low wall nearby.
The blockaders set to walking in circles around the truck holding placards. A couple of people went up to the crossroads with placards asking passing motors to honk in support. This received many loud and welcome responses. Again it was a pleasant morning and the spirits on the blockades were very high. As we waited for the council inspectors to arrive, the crowd started to dwindle as several people had to leave for work.
Whereas we had started off with about 30 people, this had fallen to 20 by the time the inspector arrived at about 9:30 accompanied by a couple of other council officials and a photographer. In stark contrast to his colleague's behaviour the previous week, this inspector was an aggressive, self-important bully. He asked us how long this blockade was going to last and we replied that we didn't know (due to the uncertainty of the legal situation we had adopted a 'wait and see' approach). He immediately played the outside-agitator card, demanding to know if everybody was from this particular estate. Several of the women present were indeed from Drumalee and the rest of the crowd were from Dublin 7, but the inspector accused us of being outsiders who were victimising the poor residents of Drumalee, as if we should only be concerned about things that happen on our own street. He also declared several times that his union had instructed him to obey the instructions of the council. Finally he made a great deal out of the fact that all the bins were to be collected this week in Drumalee, but refused to respond to hecklers and give any assurances about next week or afterwards.
The protestors remained unmoved by his bluster and one local woman, a lifelong resident, took him to task for doing the council's dirty work. Eventually he retreated and waited nearby as the council photographer tried to get pictures of those present. One protestor asked him what he was taking pictures of and he pretended that he was merely trying to catch the licence plate of the vehicle, but shortly afterwards he admitted that he was taking pictures of the protestors for blockading council property.
At about 10 am, a police van pulled into the estate and came to a halt beside the bin truck. The two occupants approached the blockade and demanded to know what was going on. We explained the situation and told them that our interpretation of the previous day's high-court judgement was that they could not arrest us for blockading the truck and that they would have to get a high court injunction to stop the blockade, in which case we would comply with the injunction. The police, who were civil and non-confrontational throughout, accepted the situation and retreated to confer with the council official.
About 10 minutes later the official approached the blockade, accompanied by the police, and proceeded to read out the injunction, granted to the city council in the high court the previous day. He explained to us that, having heard this, we were now aware of the injunction and would be in contempt of court if we continued the blockade. We replied that it was our interpretation of the law that, regardless of the injunction, they would need a fresh high court injunction against us before they could arrest us. They seemed to accept this interpretation.
At this point we decided to hold an impromptu meeting to discuss the options. Local activists explained to the crowd that, if we were to continue the blockade, anybody taking part in it directly would have their names taken, which would be very likely to lead to a high court injunction in the very near future. We also pointed out that not everybody had to take part directly; those unwilling to face the high court could continue to protest from the footpath in support of the blockade. Two of the local organisers declared themselves willing to continue the blockade if the crowd thought that we should go down this path. However, the overwhelming majority of the crowd thought that we should not sacrifice activists to injunctions at this point in the campaign and that we should agree to call off the blockade.
This was almost certainly the wisest move, especially since several of the remaining protestors were already late for work and we would have had some difficulty in holding the truck all day. Furthermore, the wisdom of preventing all bin collection in our communities is questionable in the absence of a co-ordinated citywide attempt to bring the service to a halt. So, having let the council know that they would continue to face resistance by Stoneybatter residents, we let the bin truck go after a blockade that had lasted for just over an hour. As the truck pulled out, the police called a local organiser, who had been acting as spokesperson, over to them. They asked him for his name, but he refused and replied that "we are complying with the injunction, there's no need to take any names."
One of the most positive things about the two Stoneybatter solidarity blockades to date, was that both were successful and passed off in good spirits without any hint of confrontation or danger. We got to make our point without giving any names to the police or suffering any arrests. Realistically, with bigger battles ahead, we can scarce afford to have even more activists under injunction and prevented from taking part in future protests.