Belfast Telegraph

Gilmore upbeat in face of protests

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore argued the Government acts only in the public interest - just hours after a violent protest disrupted his party's national conference.

An angry mob of up to a thousand campaigners stormed Garda barricades outside Labour's annual event in Galway, accusing the party of betraying the people.

But the Labour leader and Tanaiste defended Government austerity measures, which have resulted in tax hikes and cuts to the welfare and education system.

"There is one thing about the Labour Party and this Government that nobody can deny: whatever decisions we make are made in the public interest and no other," said Mr Gilmore.

In his keynote speech at the party's centenary-marking conference, he said the Government had pulled the economy back from the brink and prevented Ireland from becoming a "banana republic".

Just hours before, crowds of placard-waving campaigners accused Mr Gilmore of sitting in an ivory tower and betraying both his Labour roots and the public.

They broke through security lines to picket the Bailey Allen building at NUI Galway, where the conference was being held. There were reports of Gardai using pepper spray to hold the crowd back.

The protesters used a coffin draped in the Irish flag as a battering ram, chanting: "They say cut back, we say fight back."

A 2,000-strong crowd had marched from Galway's Eyre Square to the university campus, where some 800 Labour delegates listened to TDs debating motions on education and jobs. The majority protested peacefully outside the grounds, but a few hundred managed to break through a Garda barricade and a scuffle ensued.

Campaigners included those from the anti-household charge movement, septic tank and turf cutter protesters. There were also representatives from rural schools protesting against Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's announcement earlier in the week that smaller schools face amalgamation due to spending cuts.

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