About 10,000 people took part in an anti-austerity protest through the streets of Dublin today, according to a Garda spokeswoman. Organisers put the figure at twice that number, however.
Marchers began to assemble around the Garden of Remembrance from midday.
The demonstrators were led by a young woman wearing a white mask and riding a dark horse with a banner reading “No to austerity” draped around it. Road closures were in place in Dublin city centre as the march made its way from Parnell Square, through O’Connell Street, onto d’Olier Street, before returning onto O’Connell Street, where speeches took place outside the GPO.
As the front of the march crossed over O’Connell Bridge back to the northside, the rear of the demonstration was still making its way onto the other end of O’Connell Street from Parnell Square.
Michael O’Reilly, president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions (DCTU), which co-organised the gathering, said it was just one step in a long campaign to reverse cutbacks.
“The evidence is clear – you cannot cut your way out of a recession,” he told protesters gathered outside the GPO on O’Connell Street.
“On the contrary: with each cut in public spending, and with each euro taken out of the pockets of low and average earners in new or increased taxes, we are digging ourselves further into a hole.”
The march, organised by the Campaign Against Household and Water Charges, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and supported by the ICTU, Siptu and other trade unions, was also joined by members of People Before Profit Alliance, Sinn Féin and the Socialist party, organisations including the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed and groups and individuals from around the country.
The march was also supported by regional groups, among them organisations from Monaghan, Donegal, Waterford, Kilkenny and Cork, which are variously opposed to the household tax, water charges and the septic tank charge.
Sean Walsh, who is part of a group from Portlaw, Co Waterford, which is opposed to the household charge, said he was “very encouraged” by today’s turnout.
“The effect [of austerity] is that it’s slowly tripping the country, slowly but surely and slowly affecting all business. In the rural areas the shopkeepers and publicans and so forth, they are slowly being put out of business and slowly being ground to a halt. It’s a simple message: austerity is not working, and we must fight it and we must get the message across to the Government,” he said.
The march was also attended by individuals including Wesley Fitzgibbons, a fitter who was with his four-year-old son Liam, who said he simply could not take any more cuts.
“We just feel that the Government is hitting the middle working class all the time. There’s nothing else there to take. People are working more hours to make ends meet and at end of the month we’re just barely scraping by,” he said.
Independent TD Finian McGrath said he had joined the march because “austerity is not working and the Government have to face that”.
The main reason he was there was because he was “absolutely furious about the way families and adults and children with a disability are being treated with services being cut at the moment”.
“People are here from a wide range of Irish society. A lot of community groups, the drugs groups, the disability groups, the unemployed…but they are here for one main reason – first of all, yes, they are afraid, but they have accepted the reality that even the IMF are saying that austerity is not working as an economic strategy to deal with the crisis.”
As the crowds assembled to hear speeches outside the GPO there were cheers as two men, who had draped a banner from the roof of a five-storey building reading “Shame on Labour”, lit a flare on top of the building.
As president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Eugene McGlone, was introduced to the crowd he was met by boos and shouts of “strike”.
Siptu president Jack O’Connor later condemned this interruption, which he said was conducted by a small minority and represented “a sinister trend which has developed over the recent past and that bears all the hall marks of fascism”.
He said he had witnessed a number of people carrying Sinn Féin banners accompanied by others carrying United Left Alliance posters participating in this activity and that he would be requesting that the general secretary of Congress speak with the leadership of both parties.
“I want to make it very clear that I am not alleging that either of the organisations approved of, or condoned, fascist activity of this kind. But the fact of the matter is that is being carried on by people who are either associated with their organisations or elements who are very deliberately masquerading as such for reasons best known to themselves.
“The time has come to draw a line on the activities of this tiny minority who would deny the right to freedom of speech and which, once again has tried to besmirch a demonstration against the failed one sided austerity approach which saw more than 20,000 turn out behind the banner of the Dublin Congress of Trade Unions.”
The DCTU is planning another demonstration outside the Dáil on the day of the budget, December 5th.
The anti-austerity march on Saturday will give people the chance to tell the Government that it’s time to change economic direction. By Michael O’Reilly.
Austerity is costing jobs.
When the Government published their Medium Term Fiscal Statement last week, they all but admitted that their employment policy will fail. When they took office the unemployment rate was 14.2%. Now they accept that the unemployment rate by 2015 will be 13%. In other words, the Government admits that the unemployment rate will hardly change while they are in office. This is a devastating admission.
Since the crisis began, Ireland has suffered one of the worst collapses in employment of any EU-15 country. We are up there with Spain and Greece. While the numbers at work in Ireland have fallen by over 15%, the Eurozone average is less than 2%.
Much of this job loss is due to the collapse in the property market. From the peak, the numbers at work have fallen by 350,000 – the construction sector has made up 45% of this job loss. However, in the last year, 80% of job losses have come from non-construction sectors. What was initially a crisis in the construction sector has now spread throughout the economy.
Austerity measures are continuing to drive down employment. When the Government cuts investment, it cuts the number of people at work on capital projects; when it cuts spending on public services, it cuts the number of people employed directly by the public sector and people in the private sector who got work through procurement contracts; when the Government cuts social protection, it cuts demand in the economy, putting further pressure on domestic businesses and their employees.
In short, when the Government cuts spending (or increases taxation on low-average income groups), it drives down economic activity. Why should anyone be surprised that the numbers at work are continuing to fall?
The Government‘s jobs policy ignores what’s happening in the labour market. There are about 30 unemployed people for every job vacancy. Increasing the skills of our workforce (both employers and employees), retraining people, getting young people back into education – all these are necessary to increase our capacity to grow. But these will come to nothing as long as there is no demand for labour – as long as 300,000 people are competing with each other for a relative handful of jobs.
According to the Government, the prognosis is not good. They expect there will still be fewer people at work in 2014 than when they took office. How can we begin to turn this around?
First, we can begin to drive investment. Investment not only has the capacity to put people back to work in the short-term, it increases the capacity of the economy to grow in the future. This will continue to increase employment in the medium-term. Investment in next generation broadband, a modern water and waste system and energy-efficient buildings (we have one million buildings in need of retro-fitting) could directly employ tens of thousands of people, with more jobs created downstream. Most important is investment in education – from early childhood all the way through to life-long learning; this is the single most important long-term investment.
Second, we can stop digging ourselves into a bigger hole. While we have to repair our public finances (and investment will help by driving up tax revenue and reducing unemployment costs), we should ensure that budgetary measures are ‘growth-friendly’. This means taxation measures on high-income groups and their unproductive capital and property. This will have less impact on domestic demand than cutting spending on public services and social protection, or hitting low-average income earners through taxation.
Third, we must start driving up wages – in particular, those of the low-paid. Corporate profitability has returned over the last two years. Many businesses are struggling – not because wages or taxes are too high but because not enough people are employed and have too little money in their pockets to spend. Increasing wages in enterprises that can afford it will increase tax revenue for the Government and increase spending in the economy.
This is not the complete solution to unemployment. But it is a start. It is the programme that the Dublin Council of Trade Unions is calling for. And it is one of the reasons that we are asking people to come out on Saturday, 24 November.
We can defeat austerity. We have a programme that will grow jobs and living standards. And if we have the people, the Government will have to listen to us.
Michael O’Reilly is president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions.
Up to 10,000 people are expected to take to the streets of Dublin in a weekend protest march against Government austerity measures.
Tommy McKearney, of Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes – one of the organisers – said the march would be a message to the Government that it was not elected to impoverish the people.
“Nor are they there to promote the policies of austerity across Europe by being the example of the poor peasant who would prefer to starve rather than refuse to pay the rent as we may have said in the previous century,” said Mr McKearney.
“We’re not going to tolerate that as a people. We will challenge and resist this drive towards impoverishing our people by austerity.”
Communities Against Cuts, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) and the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope are among the other organisers.
DCTU president Michael O’Reilly warned the Government was likely to introduce a budget that would further cripple the country for a sixth year running.
He said it was unacceptable that 300,000 people are unemployed and that 1 million are living in deprivation following the collapse of the economy.
“That is why we are asking people to join us on November 24 and send a clear message to Government Buildings in advance of the budget,” he added.
“We need to change direction and start focusing on growth and investment rather than destructive cuts.”
Speakers will include household charge opponent and Socialist Party councillor Ruth Coppinger and a spokesman from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
John Bissett, of Spectacle, said the march would also include music from a string quartet and puppets.
“I’m hopeful this will be provocative, interesting and helpful,” he said.
The campaigners have called for the Government to protect the poor on Budget day and to avoid the closure of local services, jobs and community projects.
They will also appeal to those taking part to picket the Dail on December 5, as a mark of solidarity against cuts.