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10 Feb, 2015 17:52

‘Political policing’: Arrest of Irish anti-austerity activists sparks London solidarity protest

‘Political policing’: Arrest of Irish anti-austerity activists sparks London solidarity protest

Allegations of “political policing” are mounting in Ireland following the “heavy-handed” arrest of swathes of anti-austerity campaigners in Dublin. In a mark of solidarity, a protest will be held outside the Irish embassy in London on Wednesday.

Campaigners will hand staff in the embassy an official letter denouncing what they describe as the Irish government’s “blatant attack on the democratic right to protest.”

Critics warn activists and leftist politicians have become the target of politically motivated arrests in Ireland, while corrupt bankers and politicians who brought the state's economy to its knees face impunity.

Among those arrested and detained by police are three representatives of Ireland’s Anti-Austerity Alliance, including socialist TD (MP) Paul Murphy.

The four men were arrested on Monday in connection with an incident at a community protest in Dublin last November involving Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection.

A criminal investigation regarding the alleged false imprisonment of Minister Joan Burton at the protest is ongoing.

Burton's car was reportedly obstructed by campaigners for two hours during the demonstration while she remained seated in the vehicle. Additionally, members of her team say they were assaulted as police escorted them from the scene.

Paul Murphy says Joan Burton 'hammed up' what happened in Jobstown: http://t.co/IHlEJoZgdepic.twitter.com/ucaRXlZwXJ

— TheJournal.ie (@thejournal_ie) February 9, 2015

The protest was organized by members of Ireland’s anti-water charges movement, which opposes the Irish government’s recent policy shift on water taxation. Campaigners warn the government's water charges are a veiled austerity tax that many Irish citizens can't afford to pay.

The arrest of Murphy and his fellow campaigners on Monday provoked outrage across Ireland.

Allegations waged against the men included the false imprisonment of Burton and her colleagues. After hours of questioning, however, all four were released without charge. Files relating to the matter will be reviewed by Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Murphy insists the charges levelled against him and his fellow campaigners are “complete nonsense.”

Following his release from police custody, he said the arrests were politically motivated and were deliberately orchestrated to damage Ireland’s growing anti-water charges movement.

The TD for Dublin South-West stressed the political maneuver specifically targeted the Anti-Austerity Alliance, of which he is a member. The leftist alliance was founded in 2014, and is registered in Ireland as a political party to contest local elections.

10 Gardaí came to arrest a 16yr old in a dawn raid on behalf of Joan Burton today. #PoliticalPolicing

— Paul Reynolds (@PaulFedayn) February 10, 2015

On Tuesday, a further four anti-water charges activists– including a 16-year-old boy – were arrested in connection with November's west Dublin rally.

Commenting on the development, Murphy said the campaigners received the "same heavy handed tactics” he had endured on Monday.

An additional 33 arrests are reportedly planned by Irish police as part of their investigation into Minister Burton’s alleged false imprisonment. Some media outlets report the number could be as high as 40.

Irish Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said it was “outrageous” that anti-water charges campaigners were hauled from their beds by police at dawn.

“This is completely over the top political policing. The government should answer for it,” he said.

Irish socialist party TD Joe Higgins (Photo from wikipedia.com)

Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, denied that Monday’s arrests were politically motivated. When probed on Paul Murphy’s detention, he claimed police were simply doing their job.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny declined to comment when questioned on accusations of political policing. He told the Irish Examiner, however, that Ireland’s police “run their operations completely independent of the government.”

Higgins dismissed Kenny’s perspective, warning that the recent spate of dawn arrests are “unprecedented” in the history of Irish policing.

The prospect of facing the commodification of water has angered Irish citizens, prompting multiple nationwide demonstrations in recent months. Protests have highlighted what campaigners stress is double taxation on water services.

The water charges form part of the Irish government's wider debt re-payment strategy in the wake of a grueling bank bailout that cost Irish citizens approximately €70 billion (US$79 billion).

As austerity prevails and unemployment, poverty, and homelessness remain rife in Ireland, many citizens maintain they cannot afford the Irish government's water tax. Campaigners say the Irish government's policy shift discriminates against ordinary workers and the unemployed who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Higgins described the water charges as “an odious and hated tax” that the people of Ireland will not accept. The Socialist Party TD said this week's dawn arrests will serve to intensify Ireland’s anti-water charges movement.

Wednesday’s demonstration outside the Irish embassy at London’s Grosvenor Place is due to begin at 4 p.m. local time. It is being organized by the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

The party said the continued persecution of political activists in Ireland will be “met with a wave of protest internationally.”