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29 Aug, 2015 21:42

‘Not gone away’: Tens of thousands rally in Irish capital against water charges

‘Not gone away’: Tens of thousands rally in Irish capital against water charges

Tens of thousands of people took part in the anti-water charges protest in Ireland on Saturday, marching through the capital of Dublin to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s policy.

It was the first mass rally in the last six months to protest the water charges imposed by the government. Organized by the Right2Water campaign group, it was the fifth major demonstration since the controversial utility fee was levied. 

The protesters gathered at two meeting points located near the train stations of Heuston in the western part of the city, and Connoly in the city’s east. The demonstration began at 2 pm local time, as crowds of people marched through Dublin’s quays to Spire on O’Connel Street in the city center.

Dozens of small groups of local residents joined the protesters, with a number of smaller columns of demonstrators marching in from the suburbs, Irish media reports.

‘Game of Thrones’ star, Liam Cunningham also joined the protest.

Many of the protesters, who had been arrested or face charges after an incident at a similar demonstration in Jobstown in November 2014, also joined Saturday’s rally. The march started out at the Criminal Courts of Justice on Parkgate Street, with MP Paul Murphy from Anti-Austerity Alliance personally joining them, Irish UTV News reports.

In November 2014, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton was trapped in her car by the protesters for about two hours.

After the demonstrators gathered near the Spire, several anti-water charge speakers, including Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, Dublin City Councilor Bríd Smith, People Before Profit MP Joan Collins, and Mandate trade union secretary John Douglas, addressed the public.

According to Right2Water spokesman David Gibney, the protest was held in order to remind the government that the problem had not “gone away.”

“We’re saying very firmly that it hasn’t and this will be the biggest issue when it comes to the next general election,” David Gibney said, as quoted by the Irish Times.

“This is not what the Irish people want. We want to continue paying for our water through progressive general taxation. The key thing today we want is to get rid of both water charges and Irish Water. We want change in this policy,” he added.

After the demonstration, the Right2Water spokesman said the campaign would continue.

“Today saw between 80,000 and 100,000 people from all over the country gather in Dublin to restate our demand for the abolition of water charges.”

He also said that the protest was aimed at drawing attention to other social problems, such as access to healthcare, education, and the lack of housing.

“This demonstration today it is not just about water. This is about the type of society we want to live in and a vision for the future,” he said.

His words were largely echoed by one of the protesters, Mick Bates, who told Irish Breaking News that the people were concerned about many problems and wanted the current government to resign.

“It’s not only about water now – it’s about property tax, Universal Social Charge, you name it. There’s been so many kick downs and we’re not getting anything back. People just can’t afford to live anymore,” Mick Bates said, as quoted by the Irish Breaking News.

“This protest has gone way beyond water now…It’s really to remove this Government from power. A lot of people joined the protest because the water charge was the final straw for them,” he added.

The protests also caused traffic disruptions in the Irish capital with several transport companies issuing warnings ahead of the demonstration and gardai, the Irish police, advising motorists to avoid the city center.

This protest is the latest in a series of rallies that have been held in the Irish capital and other cities of the country since autumn 2014, although it had been six months since the last mass protest in Dublin before today’s.

READ MORE: Dublin gridlocked as 50,000 Irish protesters oppose ‘Ministry of Thirst’ water charges

Public indignation leading to the mass demonstrations was caused by a decision by the Irish government in 2014 to levy a new water charge from the beginning of 2015 that would cost households several hundred euros a year. With this measure becoming increasingly unpopular among the people, trade unions, anti-austerity groups and opposition parties organized the Right2Water Campaign, calling for the new water charges to be abolished.

READ MORE: Austerity tax: Tens of thousands protest against 'regressive' Irish govt water charges

Since the beginning of the campaign in October 2014, the Right2Water group has organized five mass protests in Dublin, and many smaller protests have taken place all over the country. They insist that free access to drinking water and sanitation is a fundamental human right recognized by the United Nations and call on the government to legislate accordingly.

READ MORE: ‘Gross insult’: Petition against Irish water charges snubbed by Cork’s Deputy Lord Mayor