Banned Farmleigh march went ahead

We have shown that it is not so easy to take away democratic freedoms. You can break people's bones. You can throw them in jail. But they will still assemble. And they will not give up the right to protest so easily.



Banned march went ahead


NEWS RELEASE Dublin Grassroots Network May 2, 2004 For immediate release

Police command decided to attack crowd

Last night's "Bring the Noise" march to Farmleigh demonstrated two things. Firstly, many people really do care about the freedom of assembly and opinion and for a different kind of Europe. After a month of hate speech from the security forces and sections of the media, after riot police had been placed at our assembly point with instructions to prevent people demonstrating, after our friends had been arrested, harassed on the street, our venues raided by the police, it was not an easy choice to walk, with only our own bodies, between lines of police knowing that off in the wings were the riot squads, the army and all the other threats they have used against us.

And yet people marched. Between three and five thousand of us made the long trek on foot up the Navan Road for two hours at the end of an exhausting day. Some friends even came with their children; some came despite being pregnant or partially disabled; some people came from far outside the EU. And they did get to the walls of the Phoenix Park. The Park that was closed to prevent embarrassment to the Government. They did make the noise. And we believe our voices will be heard.

Secondly, we have been saying for weeks that the state and sections of the media were advertising a riot. It did not come to that; but it was within a hair's breadth, and it is lucky that no more people were hurt given the policing decisions that were taken and the levels of tension. No doubt the Minister for Justice needed trouble and arrests to justify his multi-million euro operation. And perhaps the Government also has some grievances over the way their multi-million euro PR event lost pride of place to people working in their free time with a budget of a few thousand euro.

So what happened? We reached Ashtown Roundabout, within shouting distance of the Phoenix Park. There was a line of uniformed policemen, and some people walked right up to those lines. After weeks of government intimidation and scare stories in the press, both protestors and police were tense and expecting trouble. There was some isolated pushing and shoving, and some cans and bottles were thrown.

We want to note that undercover policemen were present among the protestors at the front, making comments like "you have a stick (a bamboo cane for holding flags), why not use it?" or telling people to push onwards. And it did not help that there were dozens of cameras and microphones up at the front, focussing attention on anyone willing to face the police.

At this point a group came up with a banner. A command decision was clearly given and the uniformed police fell back and the riot police came through. At this point people were baton charged, at least twice, and the water cannon was used. All of this happened very quickly and within two minutes of the banner arriving at the front lines.

Let us get two things clear. One is the general question of "provocation". We are told that we "provoked" the police. But this was not a question of ordinary gardai somehow losing the run of themselves. It was a command decision to pull back the ordinary gardai and attack a crowd of several thousand people. Those baton charges very nearly provoked a full-scale panic, in which people would have been trampled. This has nothing to do with keeping the peace.

Secondly, there is a question of appropriate reaction. If I am trying to go somewhere and you are trying to stop me, there might well be a bit of pushing involved, if I felt it was really important to go where I wanted to go and you were being paid to prevent me. Similar situations occur in Dublin nightclubs every weekend of the year. They do not usually result in the bouncer pulling out a club and splitting skulls.

And this is what happened. At least two people suffered severe head injuries from truncheons (after all the hype, there were no helmets, and no padding to be seen). When a DGN activist attempted to bring these two obviously injured citizens to the Meath hospital, Gardai refused access to the street.

We have spoken to several eyewitnesses who saw people beaten, thrown over walls, or hit on the head, even while sitting down, which many of us did in an attempt to reduce tensions. At least two people were beaten behind police lines. We understand there are at least two broken arms, one broken leg, and those two skull injuries. One arrestee, with a broken leg, has been offered paracetamol without an X-ray.

And so to those who have been arrested. At least 28 of them, who were clearly denied phone calls for a number of hours after being arrested (it is only in the early hours of the morning that anyone succeeded in placing a call out).

Let's look at one of these arrestees. After the initial baton charges, a group of DGN activists had linked arms in a line and were walking away from police lines, attempting to get the crowd moving and keep people safe. The riot police were moving up too rapidly behind them and not giving them or the crowd a chance to get away. DGN activists told them precisely this and were ignored.

Our friend fell down in this situation. He was immediately hauled behind police lines and arrested &endash; not for any action of his, but because while trying to protect other people and remove them from a space of danger, he was unlucky enough to get caught. And it is clear that simply to be there, at that time and in that place, even if what you were doing was trying to rescue people, was an offence in the eyes of the law. Our friend is now in Cloverhill jail.

This police reaction was unnecessary. There was never any chance that the crowd would break through police lines. We were literally surrounded by riot police: down the side streets, on the North Circular, ready and waiting. The crowd was quite dispersed. To repeat: if I push you, that does not justify you in breaking my skull.

But we have to ask ourselves if any of this matters. The Government wanted a riot, and no doubt that is how they will describe this. If so, it was not protestors who were rioting. Many journalists wanted a riot: we have been asking for weeks why so few will talk to us about the issues. A month of near-hysteria in sections of the media, fuelled by a range of stories from the ever-fertile minds of the security forces, did nothing to calm tensions.

Just for the record: where were the 20,000 anarchists who were to burn Dublin to the ground? Where were the poison gas attacks? Where were the arms dumps, the plan for mayhem? (We can perhaps answer those last two questions: in Garda headquarters.)

But let's be clear what has happened so far this weekend. 700 people walked and rode their bikes in the biggest Critical Mass yet on Friday. 200 people joined our "No Borders" morning of street theatre, and upwards of 1000 took part in our "Reclaim the City" actions. And several thousand people made the long walk from O'Connell Street to the Ashtown Roundabout in the face of the biggest security operation, and the biggest campaign of vilification, that many of us have ever seen. There was some pushing, and the gardai started attacking people. We fell back, and brought everybody back to town (except for the 28 inside), and dispersed safely from O'Connell Street.

All of these - including most of last night's march &endash; were cheerful, friendly and colourful events. As we were walking to and from the Phoenix Park, there were singing, drumming, bells and horns to be heard. Many, many people came out to watch us go by, and often they waved &endash; or in some cases, allowed women in to use the bathroom. They were not terrified, and neither were we.

And we have shown that it is not so easy to take away democratic freedoms. You can break people's bones. You can throw them in jail. But they will still assemble. And they will not give up the right to protest so easily.

And tomorrow? Our events go ahead as planned. At 11.30, the No Borders camp begins, and will last all day. And on Monday, we will close off the weekend with a "Reclaim the Streets" party. Unlike the Government, which cannot even find the political will to hold a party if business interests are against it, we do know how to throw a party. Like our other events, we expect it to be big, we expect it to be friendly, and we are inviting the whole city to join in.

Dublin Grassroots Network

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