Student Issues

Peaceful protest or mob mentality?

The Irish media has been dominated by the issue of water charges for months and there is no doubt that it is the hot topic of 2014. Irish Water is seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Irish public; since the introduction of the charges, hundreds of thousands have marched for their abolition around the country, with protests becoming more frequent and more heated. 
There’s no doubt about it – people are angry. But when does this anger cross the line into the region of mobbing? Where do we draw the line at what behaviour is right and what is wrong?
As a Tallaght girl myself, I’ve dealt with misconceptions and prejudice against my home my whole life. People assume the worst of you, yet for me and my family, friends and community, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The stereotype is frustrating to deal with and even more frustrating when it’s reinforced.
Jobstown in Tallaght hit the headlines a couple of weeks back when Tánaiste Joan Burton visited a graduation ceremony of further education centre An Cosán. But it wasn’t the achievements of the graduates that made the news – it was the Tánaiste being trapped in her car by protestors, it was water balloons, it was bricks being thrown at gardaí’s cars. These are images that many small-minded people will take as an excuse to further denigrate the people of Tallaght; these are what will be taken as the truth of what people are like. Why give them this excuse? 
The original purpose of Joan Burton’s visit should not be forgotten – the graduation ceremony of a further education centre. This shows that the community works hard and is driven, ambitious and intelligent. The themes of bettering yourself and improving your education were overshadowed by the behaviour of the mob, and this, simply put, is not fair.
Opposition TD’s have been mainly in favour of the protests against water charges, and many have spoken out about the events in Tallaght. Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger said that the portrayal of Joan Burton as a victim was ‘incredible’ and as a result of the charges, it was inevitable that when ministers ‘go into deprived areas they will be met not with garlands of flowers but with anger.’ Anti Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy himself protested alongside his constituents in Tallaght, and was seen sitting down in front of the Tánaiste’s car as it prepared to leave.
When speaking about the events in the Dáil, Paul Murphy, who has been a regular presence at water charges protests, quoted James Connolly: “All hail then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!” But is mob behaviour the force of progress behind it all? There’s no doubt that the mass protests have made a difference – this is evident from the Government’s newly revised scheme for Irish Water, which greatly reduced the rates. It is widely believed that this is a result of the extremity of events in Tallaght and Sligo – however, it could equally be a result of the constant perseverance of the public, through marching, discussion and peaceful action.
The spirit that has arisen in Irish people as a result of the water charges is, on the whole, a great thing. Ireland has a long history of standing up and speaking out for the people and this has fallen to the wayside in recent times. The right to peaceful protest is so important and it should be exercised as much as possible. But the key word is peaceful – marches, speeches, meetings and discussions are the way to forward positive thinking and change.

We shouldn’t have to paint ourselves as thugs to make a difference – we, as a society and a people, are better than that. 

Photo: William Murphy/ Flickr