Mahon Says No are a group of working-class activists that for the past 12 months have been active in their community in organising resistance to the water charges and the installation of water meters. It is an organic group with no real formal structures – just local residents tackling a national issue on the ground at local level.
Note: this is an opinion piece from a personal perspective, but, one which I believe is shared by many community activists around the country.
It was reported on the Evening Echo’s website yesterday (Wednesday, 21st October 2015) that a “special team to police protests against the installation of water meters” has been set-up by An Garda Síochána in Cork City and has been active since the beginning of this week. The stated purpose of this unit is to monitor protests in areas of Cork City where resistance to these unjust charges and unwanted meters has been most active. Garda Superintendant Michael Finn was quoted in the article as making a reference to protestors “interfering with and threatening” meter installers and claims that because of this there is need for Garda presence, while also acknowledging how Garda resources are being diverted from “regular policing” as such. As a founding member of the Mahon Says No anti-water charge group, which has been active in our community for the past 12 months in anticipation of the installation of meters, I would like to make the following points on the issue.
1 – Since the beginning of the mass opposition to the highly unpopular water charges there has ALWAYS been a sinister element of political policing which has lead to many arrests, spurious charges and even prison sentences handed out to protestors. The revelation of such a unit in Cork City comes as no surprise to many of us, and it is my firm belief that such a unit has been active for some time. Secretive politically motivated police units have always been active in this State and have a long history of harassment and repression of political activists. Case in point; at an event held outside the house of one of our members a few months ago where a number of activists from throughout the city had gathered for a “meter removal tutorial”, an unmarked Garda vehicle carrying known members of the “Special Branch” drove into the estate and proceeded to monitor those present for some time. Though this incident may be minor and seem insignificant – it clearly indicates the commitment of high ranking members of the Garda to impose fear and intimidation on those involved with resisting water meters. Furthermore it is proof that special units have been monitoring the activities of community activists for some time.
2 – It is claimed that this new unit will be made up of Gardaí attached to stations in areas where installation of water meters has met most opposition. It is safe to assume that this is in reference to the greater Ballyphehane area, where the local group have been engaged in Trojan work along with members of their community, but also in reference to Mahon, where our group has been highly active and visible in our community over the past twelve months. Other areas such as Mayfield and Gurranabraher are no doubt included in the jurisdiction of this unit too. With this in mind we do expect a Garda presence when Irish Water arrive in Mahon in the coming weeks, but we do not accept the claim that such a presence will be to protect the meter installers. Such as presence will serve only to intimidate protestors, frighten residents into not protesting for fear of arrest and to force these unwanted meters on our community. Therefore we will continue to call for non-violent resistance and peaceful civil disobedience to stop the forced installations of these unwanted meters. With this in mind we wholly respect the rights of the citizen to stand their ground as they express their democratic right to protest and to self-defence if they find themselves victim of physical abuse and harassment, which has befallen many protestors in the past year.
3 – Both Superintendant Finn and also Garda Mick Corcoran, Garda Representative Association spokesperson for Cork City, have been quoted in the article as making reference to how Garda resources will be affected by this new unit, particularly in the areas where the members of this unit are stationed. This is a point which many community activists would also like to stress. In a time when many rural Garda stations all across the country have been closed for supposed lack of adequate resources, when our own local Garda station appears to be closed more than it is open to the public and when street crime in our City Centre is on the increase then surely there are much more urgent uses for Garda resources. The fact that such a project would have prioritised funding shows that the State not only fears the rippling effect of the peaceful anti-water charge movement on the political and social landscape, but also indicates their commitment to portraying the protests as lawless and the protestors as thugs. Given that most protests have been overwhelmingly without incident and well-natured, this lie does not carry much weight and the continued on-the-ground work of the community groups will prove as much.
Mahon, like the other areas mentioned, is a working-class community that has always bred activists that have stood up to political corruption and social injustices and inequality, and our community is full of wonderful people that are very proud of where we are from. With this in mind, and on behalf of Mahon Says No, we reiterate our commitment to fighting these unjust water charges and will continue to work within our community and in cooperation with other community groups to expose the corrupt nature of the drive to commodify our water supply and the financial blackhole that is Irish Water. We will do so not for any goals of personal advancement or to further the careers of oppertunist politicians, but for the love of our community and our commitment to building a more just and equal society for all.
Lar Ó Tuama