It was a miserable wet day in Cork City last Saturday as thousands of determined activists marched through the city to reassert our human right to water, and to send the message to the government parties (and those hopefuls waiting in the wings) that water charges are still very much an issue. And, of course, that us water warrior are still very much ready to take to the streets when needed! We haven’t gone away, you know!! Pipebands, shawlies, community groups, Trade Unions, political parties and political groups that refuse to call themselves parties but act in every way as such all marching together with thousands of ordinary Corkonians to collectively drive the message home – we are not paying the water tax. Though the numbers in attendance will vary from source to source, no one with any conviction could deny that the turnout on the day, with all things considered, was excellent. Even if RTÉ’s trademark ultra-conservative estimation of numbers was correct, 1,500 people is still a massive number to come out marching on any given day, never mind in the pissin’ rain on a bitter cold Saturday afternoon in January. But who believes a word RTÉ say anyway? I’d put the numbers closer to 5,000, and that my friends is a feckin’ good days work! Those sort of numbers marching through Cork City against government austerity/class warfare would have been unheard of only a few years ago, so credit has to go to all in attendance and to all those who organised this march – because organising for these events is by no means an easy task. Maith sibh go léir a chairde.
A number of videos have already been uploaded to YouTube showing the colourful, vocal and massive crowd in attendance on Saturday, and it really is a great thing to see such a fun, entertaining and family-friendly demonstration with a serious and focussed aim. All of the community groups, which have lead the fight against water charges from the beginning, brought impressive and colourful crowds with them on the day. Though, with the risk of being labeled biased, extra credit must go to the Mahon Says No group for again bringing such a colourful and boisterous bloc with flags, placards and banners galore. Doing the parish proud lads. However, that is not to take anything away from the effort put in by the other community groups, especially those whose activists were centrally involved in the organisational side of things on Saturday. Naturally quite a number of political parties/groups were represented on the day too, all of whom added to the atmosphere with their own flags, banners and chants. Though again, with the risk of being labeled biased, none were as impressive as the Mahon bloc. I’m sorry, I just can’t contain my pride for my community and the reinvigoration of that pride amongst our residents over the past year. One continuing trend that is obvious from all of the massive marches that have taken place nationally over the past fifteen or so months has been the variation in age of the protestors. From the young school children to the hardened pensioners – there is no doubt that this is a mass movement with the potential to force drastic changes in our society. Having said that, work needs to continue in the communities to encourage more people – of all backgrounds – to get involved.
As is the standard route for most marches in Cork City, we assembled on Grand Parade and proceeded to march from there through South Mall (Cork’s financial district one could say), across Parnell Place, up along Merchant’s Quay, through the main thoroughfare of Patrick Street and from there turning back onto Grand Parade to assemble once more outside the City Library where we were entertained by reggae and folk musicians as the tail end of the crowd arrived. It is here that the three speakers on the day took to the stage, and though a small number of people in the crowd had understandably departed due to the abysmal weather conditions, those that stayed were treated to three exceptional speeches from three inspirational and well-informed activists. And three very differing orators too it must be said. First to take the stage was the Belfast-based Trade Union organiser Steve Nolan, of Trademark, who gave a worrying though rousing overview of the agenda behind water metering/privatisation and how it interconnects with the downgrading and privatisation of other vital public amenities and services. Steve is a central organiser with the Right2Water/Right2Change campaigns, and though I personally am not overly enthusiastic about their electoral focus, it is reassuring that someone with such awareness and focus is a key organiser in that movement. And someone that is fully committed to the progression and the centrality of the community groups in this movement.
Then it was time for the community activists, and who better to represent us than the two Karens? Both of whom are well-known and well-respected throughout the city and county and who have helped organise the fight against Irish Water and water charges, not only in their own communities but also in many other areas. Karen Doyle of Cobh Community 4 Change gave an inspiring and poetic speech where she encouraged us all to know our place in Irish society. For the community groups and activists it is to hold and nurture this revolutionary space; to the migrants and refugees it is as equals in their new home; to the homeless on our streets it is in their own homes living their own lives; to the politicians it is to be working for us and with us to break this rotten system. Karen, though passive and calm in her approach, did not shy away from the necessity to be “noble law breakers” in the face of unjust laws, and reminded us that, “revolutions can be beautiful”. And if her tranquil tone was to leave anyone in any doubt as to her commitment to this fight then her parting words should surely suffice; “my dearest friends, if they won’t let us dream, then we wont let them sleep”. In sharp contrast Karen Collins of Mayfield Has Had Enough was much more off the cuff and vigorous with her words. When addressing the issue of water being a human right Karen passionately declared that, “you are a human whether you have money or not, it’s as simple as that, and don’t let them tell you different”. She also made reference to the spurious allegations constantly being made against committed activists among the anti-water charge movement – with claims of being a “sinister fringe”, of being “extremists” and at one stage even being likened to ISIS for feck sake! In what is a very emotive and all round on the ball speech, Karen also makes reference to the water warriors being referred to as “dissidents” by the establishment. And it is here that I feel obliged to expand on…
I fully and wholeheartedly with my hand across my heart stand tall and proclaim that I am proud to be a dissident in the eyes of the establishment. I am proud that the likes of Joan Burton and Enda Kenny think so little of me and my fellow activists. I am proud that our actions over the past year or so have disrupted their plans for an easy takeover of our water supply. I am proud that my community, and many communities across the country are finally standing up and fighting back against almost a decade of austerity budgets that are designed to further concentrate the wealth of the nation in the hands of an ever-increasing private club of millionaires. I am proud that we have spoiled their hopes of a passive roll-out of their neo-liberal agenda. I am proud to dissent against their corrupt system. I am proud to dissent against their health policies that have allowed our public health service to fall into such shameful disrepair. I am proud to dissent against their elitist view on education that sees the wealthiest in our society afforded the best chances of academic and ultimately career progression. I am proud to be part of this organic mass movement of community activists. I am proud to assert my right to water, and I am PROUD TO BE A DISSIDENT!
Lar Ó Tuama