In all the anger, argument, protesting and politicing around the recent spate of very political arrests of anti water tax protestors in Tallaght, the issue of why the government are doing this is being debated with little clarity being brought to the issue. Forget the nonsense that this is simply the Gardai doing their job, it’s juvenile for anyone to think that the police force of the state does not act in accordance with the wishes of those in power. Whether those wishes are conveyed formally or otherwise is irrelevant, for you can be pretty sure we will never know. It would be a feckin useless Garda Superintendent anyways that failed to understand the needs and desires of his or her political masters.
So I start with the assumption that the arrests are political in that they are required by government. The manner of the arrests spread over a number of days, engaging large numbers of Gardai, beginning with the targetting of prominent political adversaries of the government eg Paul Murphy TD, two Anti Austerity Alliance councillors and a member of Eirigi and then moving on to less prominent local adults and even children, indicates a fair level of planning and intention. The reaction must have been anticipated by the Gardai and the government, loud public protests and outrage across the country from the huge number of active local anti water tax groups.
So what exactly are they trying to achieve? What can we expect to happen next? And how should anti water tax campaigners react?
I suspect that the idea is to create a sense that the water tax campaign has gone too far and is now threatening public order and the rule of law. You may scoff at that, but if you do, you are not the target audience. Part of that target audience is rather the same audience that are afraid of impending catastrophe everytime Paul Williams, Jim Cusack or the like is on TV or Radio talking about crime, the type that believe what they read in the Sunday Independent and trust RTE, the type that think people going on strike is irresponsible, the type that haven’t been too hard hit by the recession or who may even have done alright out of it. You know them: landlords who’ve been busy upping the rent, employers who cut wages on the back of the recession but haven’t even thought about cutting back on their own lifestyle, rancher farmers who always have the Ministers ear, professionals who’s fees never dipped even when wages crashed and the jobs of workers blew away like leaves in the wind. They got a tax cut on their high salaries in the budget. You know them; they tend to vote with their class interest or are obsessed with law and order over justice everytime. Fine Gael’s traditional voters.
Of course there is another layer of people and these are the ones we must concern ourselves with. Not everyone opposing the water tax is an angry working class man or woman. Many are generally not actively political or moved to get involved in things unless directly effected. Their participation in the campaign is conditional. Conditional on the campaign being non violent, conditional on the arguments being put in a respectful manner. They are uncomfortable to be bracketed with people who they perceive to be overly aggressive or using language they find offensive. This is the second target of this political Garda operation. The government hope to peel these people away from the campaign, to gain their passivity and their payment of the water tax.
So what’s likely to happen next?
I ‘d say it’s a safe bet that quite a few people will be charged with public order offences and that the trials will be slow to reach the District court in the manner of such things. We are unlikely to see trials before the general election unless the state is confident of convictions. The Public Order Act, which I and many others fought against all those years ago, is a travesty of justice. Conviction under the same is relatively easy in the corrupt District Court system. The very act of charging people with a crime is seen in the eyes of nearly all Fine Gaels’ supporters as proof of guilt , whilst it will create an uneasiness in the second group I talk about above.
So how should the anti water tax movement react?
We have done the first logical thing: we have been loud and angry in our codemnation of these arrests and called them out for what they are. We have picketted Garda stations and rallied in solidarity with those under attack. Thus we have maintained the Solidarity of the campaigners for each other and we have healed or at least managed to set asside the divisions that bedevil the broad movement amongst the activist layer.
The second thing though is equally if not more important. We must not allow ourselves to become overly focused on this issue. Yes, maintain solidarity and mount protests when appropriate, but the focus of the bulk of our work now must be on building non payment by actively canvassing our communities for this and helping other areas to organise to do the same. Resist metering where we are strong enough for sure , but remember it is mass non payment that will bury Irish Water.