Belfast Telegraph

Thousands march over water charges

Tens of thousands of people have thronged central Dublin to protest at imminent water charges, the latest austerity levy imposed since the economic crash seven years ago.

Despite the biting cold winter weather, and forecast high winds, protesters arrived from all over the country for a national day of demonstration outside Leinster House.

Right2Water, an umbrella group of trade unions and left-leaning political parties who organised the rally, claimed the crowd, which streamed down two sides of Merrion Square, numbered up to 100,000 at one stage.

The Garda said the official figure was "in excess of 30,000".

There were two arrests for public order offences, close to where the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House was barricaded.

Missiles were fired at the Garda during skirmishes at one of the barriers sealing off a number of streets around the Dail amid a heavy security presence in the city centre.

But with musicians, singers, activists and politicians entertaining and addressing the rally from a main stage, the demonstration was overwhelmingly peaceful and good-natured.

Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Glen Hansard was among a number of celebrities who turned up.

"I think there's something happening in the world, and I feel this is our version of it," he said.

"The water charge is the straw that's breaking our backs - people are essentially very dissatisfied with how we are being governed."

Hansard added: "I'm not political, but the Irish nation has now been forced to be (political) and to come out on the streets.

"We've gone through a lot as a nation.

"It feels like there is more and more screws being put on the people, to pay taxes for this, that and the other.

"A lot of money that went out of the country in different directions and it is not up to the people to pay it back.

"I think there is a general sense of anger, a seething dissatisfaction and I'm just like anyone else."

Hansard, who won an Academy Award for his song Falling Slowly that soundtracked the film Once, took to the stage with musician Damien Dempsey.

"You can see the rebellion in people's eyes - you can see the spirit coming back into the Irish people," Dempsey said.

Originally, the Government had signalled the water levy would be up to 600 euro a year for some families.

But mounting dissent and increasingly rowdy protests targeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and senior ministers during public events forced a U-turn.

Householders will now be liable for charges of 60 euro for single adult homes and 160 euro for all other homes, a flat rate set for four years.

Critics claim it is a tax too far, does not encourage conservation and is unfair.

But the Government said it was necessary to update the chronically and historically under-invested public water system.

Controversy has also surrounded the setting up of Irish Water, the utility company that will administer and charge for water.

Bonuses have been suspended at the company while a review is ordered into salaries.

The charges are liable from January 1 and bills will start falling on doormats in April.

The demonstration began at 1pm and lasted for several hours.

Protesters held up red cards and called for the coalition Fine Gael/Labour Government to be ousted.

Many placards denounced austerity taxes and the heaping of tens of billions in banking debts on to the taxpayer.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Ireland was not a real republic and described the turnout as "real democracy".

"Nobody ever gave anybody rights, you have to take your rights," he told the crowds.

"Stay on the streets until the government become the servants of the people."

Socialist TD Clare Daly said the rally would replace fear with hope.

"This is indeed what democracy looks like," she said.

"We are living in a moment that changed Ireland."

Environment Minister Alan Kelly said earlier the protest would make no difference to Government plans for water charges.

"I don't envisage anything changing," he said.

"This is completely necessary.

"I don't envisage anything changing in relation to the package at all."

Right2Water is already planning to boycott the bills when they are sent out next spring.

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