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By Jason Michael

ONLY A FEW YEARS AGO, after a decade of austerity, in the midst of a housing and a growing homelessness crisis, the Irish government thought it would be a good idea to pay off the state’s massive debts – a crippling EU/IMF €67.5 billion bailout – by introducing a water charge. Rather than making the banks and those who gambled and lost the fortunes of the nation pay for the damage they had done, our government thought it best to make ordinary people foot the bill. At the cost of €614 million the government began installing water meters to people’s homes, and this too would be paid for by the taxpayer. People protested. Small numbers started following the installation crews round, stopping them from doing their work. Soon the Gardaí – the Irish police – were accompanying the crews and making regular arrests.

Ireland became a state under siege. Slowly, in every town and city in the country, people began to protest. The police clamped down. More came onto the street. The authorities clamped down harder. Before long the police riot squad, horses, and attack dogs were a common sight on the streets of Dublin. Almost every weekend the size of the protests grew. The usual political bandwagonists made sure their banners were always to be seen, but the people were out and leading themselves to the Dáil, the national parliament on Kildare Street. In short order the size of the protests and the force they were able and willing to show became unmanageable.

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Everyone who came onto the street empowered others. It was the talk of the country. The sneering middle class fell silent, and soon their newspapers began to sing the praises of the movement they had at first worked so hard to vilify. Ireland was in a state of open civil disorder. The disobedience of the cause became infectious to the point that no amount of riot police could control the swell. It was clear that sooner or later the protest would break through the police lines and burn down the parliament – I kid you not; after months of pepper spray and truncheons the women and men on the front lines were in no mood to be nice.

In the beginning we all feared arrest. After “illegally” sitting down in front of a line of vicious German shepherds I was turfed into a cell with a few others. Every cell in the station was occupied and every occupant was a protester. We weren’t violent criminals. We were just broke and unwilling to cough up more money to cover the arses of the people who had torn the ass out of our country. Cells are not comfortable. I don’t think they are designed with comfort in mind. As was to be expected, someone in the cells started crying. She was a young mum and she was terrified she might be sent to prison. Someone started whistling the tune from The Great Escape. Others joined in. Everyone joined in. Every cell was a music box blasting out a tune of sheer defiance. The police came and roared at us to shut up. We ignored them. It got louder. It became fun. Aisling stopped crying.

After a four-hour detention we were kicked out – with the threat that a file would be sent to the DPP. Outside the protest was still hot. Hundreds of people applauded as I walked out the front door of the station. A girl dressed as a tree gave me a kiss and a hug. I re-joined the ranks. We all did, and the numbers got bigger and bigger.

Then came the point they couldn’t arrest us anymore. There were too many of us. We were in the hundreds of thousands. Every street was shut down. Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway, and a few other places besides had come to a complete standstill. Those who were arrested and charged and sent up to the District Court were greeted by juries who looked on them as heroes. One case after another was chucked out of court. Judges were growing tired of the backlog and started striking cases out of court the moment they came up. No one was paying for water, no one was going to prison, and no one was going to put up with the police smacking them about the head.

At one point, while marching with 150,000 people along Bachelor’s Walk, it dawned on me that we had won. Richard Boyd Barrett – a TD who himself was on trial at the time – addressed the demonstration at the GPO – the site of the Easter Rising in 1916 – and said the same thing: “Comrades, we have won!” And we had won. Within a fortnight the government had effectively collapsed, a general election was called and the people had their say. We said “No” to water charges and demanded that access to free and clean water be written into the constitution. That night, the night of the protest, I walked home only to discover my neighbours out digging up the meters outside their homes. I helped George remove his and he helped me dispose of mine.

What would have happened with the water charges here in Ireland had we all thought we needed permission to act? Nothing! Nothing would have happened. Instead we would all be paying for our water and helping the fraudsters escape. They didn’t escape. Shortly thereafter the courts started sending them summonses. Some even had to be extradited from the United States. How we laughed when we found out they were spending time in the cells. They wouldn’t be whistling the music of resistance – that’s for sure.

So, you might imagine my response when I heard “the authorities” don’t want us rallying for independence at the Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh: Just try and phuqin stop us! This is the spirit we must now discover; the spirit of resistance – the realisation within ourselves and throughout the independence movement that we do not need permission to assemble wherever and whenever. Action inspires action. Everything we do with boldness and courage empowers more and more people to join us. Everything we do makes the next thing we do easier. We will be a force nothing and no one can stop. Our movement will become an unstoppable force with building momentum, accelerating towards our goal – independence.

How marvellous will it be to think, in a free and independent Scotland, that the final phase of our journey began with a picnic in the capital? I can tell you, that will be the most beautiful thing – the bun fight that sent London packing. This coming Saturday I am going to Edinburgh. I am going to walk through our ancient capital. I am going to take in the sights. And I am going to walk to Holyrood Park for a picnic. And after I have scoffed my pieces and drained my flask I am going to stand up and talk to my friends. If anyone wants to stop me, they had better bring an army.

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The Water Charge Roar of Dublin


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10 thoughts on “If You Want to Achieve Freedom

  1. Thank you for that, you have fair cheered my morning up. I was beginning to have niggling doubts about the picnic in Edinburgh, the “oh I don’t want to get into trouble kind of niggle”, you have inspired that negative thought away. See you at the picnic!

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  2. I don’t recall hearing about anything to do with this on the news, surprise surprise!
    So true, we need to stand up for ourselves, like we did when they tried to bring in the poll tax. Together we are strong.

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  3. this So, you might imagine my response when I heard “the authorities” don’t want us rallying for independence at the Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh: Just try and phuqin stop us! This is the spirit we must now discover; the spirit of resistance – the realisation within ourselves and throughout the independence movement that we do not need permission to assemble wherever and whenever 1000 times this

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  4. This is a great insight into what went on in Ireland, I knew some of what they tried to do in regards to bringing in water charges. Just goes to show how strong people are when they band together to stop the authorities.
    I shall be in Edinburgh tomorrow, I’ve not been on a march, therefore this will be my first, so looking forward to it.
    Let’s bring the capital alive with song, and chants, let us show all those tourists that there is an appetite for independence and no one and nobody will stop us.

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  5. Thanks Jason. I walked today despite recovering from a broken ankle that prevented me reaching the park. But it was uplifting to see the positivity of the huge swathe of humanity, Scots of birth and by adoption.
    I had no idea about the water in Ireland but it’s proof positive of the power that ordinary citizens have to change their world.

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