Protesters in Donaghmede, Dublin yesterday (top) Dr Rory Hearne, a lecturer in political and economic geography at National University of Ireland, Maynooth
Dr Rory Hearne spoke to Keelin Shanley on Today With Sean O’Rourke this morning about the protests that have taken place since the Fine Gael and Labour coalition were elected into Government in February 2011.
Keelin Shanley: “Rory, how do you explain the way in which the protests have grown and, you know, the apparent lack of understanding from the Government and the establishment of what’s driving them?”
Dr Rory Hearne: “Well, I think that the protesters have emerged as a result of a cumulative impact of austerity. And, you know, we can’t get away from this and, you know, Enda Kenny is right when he says, they’re [the protests] not about water. To a certain extent, they’re not because people are saying, you can hear there in the interviews with people who are protesting, they can’t take anymore. And I think it’s, the narrative that came out, when the Troika left was, ‘well, we’re now in recovery’ and, for the majority of people, they’re not seeing any recovery. And if we look at, you know, there’s structural problems within the Irish economy – things like low wages, housing crisis, mortgage arrears, child poverty, these have not gone away, they’re still there and they’re going to, the likelihood is they will get worse.
And, essentially, and I’ve been analysing this for a number of years now, there was this idea that the Irish people didn’t protest during the crisis and it’s not actually true. There was a number of protests that emerged after the Labour/Fine Gael government was elected in and that is significant. I think that was a significant moment. When Labour and Fine Gael were elected, on the promise of a democratic revolution and this idea that they were going to radically reform the State, that bondholders would be burned, that the recovery, and you know that it was the end of the way that politics was done, there was a sense that this was a new republic but they absolutely failed to do that.
And so people, in response to that started protesting. We’d a small group in Cork, called the Ballyhea Says No, who were protesting about the bondholder bailouts and the Anglo debt. There was the groups that protested against the sell-off of the forests who were actually successful in that, there was a lot of community groups and disadvantaged areas who have been, where their communities have been disproportionately affected by cuts. And there was a number of protests that were growing, and then of course we had the household charge campaign and we must remember that 50%, half the population, refused to pay that charge initially, that was a significant protest. And, obviously, that was defeated, when the Revenue Commissioners came in and I think it’s also interesting that when people comment about when, you know, what happened in Ireland during the austerity, why wasn’t there, you know, protests, and Lenihan went over to Europe and ministers in Europe were asking, ‘how are you doing all these adjustments and people aren’t protesting?’
And similarly, Enda Kenny was on the front of Time magazine, saying ‘I’ve got us through all this austerity, we’ve made vast adjustments and there hasn’t been protests’. And to a certain extent, I think people were holding back. They were holding back on the basis of shock, of collective guilt and a fear, and a sense of powerlessness and now that’s all changed. People feel now that they have a power to stop these water charges, that they can actually do it. And they also see that they’ve been through the worst, they can’t get any worse for most of these people. And there’s also an injustice, there is an injustice that’s lingering about the bailout of the banks and the role in which Ireland played in bailing out the European financial system and the fact that we were left with the highest cost, €64billion, of any other European country. And while the government tries to say that, ‘well that’s not significant’, well, it is for people. They feel the pain of it everyday and I think what’s happening is that you could describe this as a fracturing of the social contract of the Republic. The Republic was, since independence, was based on the idea of, you know, we’re all in it together, that there’s no real divisions – whereas that’s completely…”
Shanley: “That’s been broken at this point…”
Hearne: “That is broken and I think that we’re seeing the emergence of a new type of politics, of people feeling that they can’t rely on the political system, they have to take action themselves and with the water charges protests, you can see that they’re right – they’ve achieved more with these protests than electing a government.”
Listen back in full here
Earlier: Are You In The Sinister Fringe
(Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)