It’s Beefcake O’Clock.
It’s Mercille on Monday
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
An important report on the anti-water charge movement was released last week, written by Rory Hearne from Maynooth University. It surveyed 2,556 people and concluded that Ireland is witnessing the ‘birth of a new civil society’, an important development.
The most significant consequence of the anti-water charge protests is that they are democratising the country. This is why elites are worried and have reacted hysterically: they want this popular movement repressed, and quickly.
There is nothing surprising in this. Power always fears real democracy, in which people have a say over what affects their lives. It directly threatens power systems where decisions are taken at the top and imposed on the population.
Yesterday, in yet another example of elites’ hatred of real democracy, the editors of the Sunday Times wrote a revealing piece entitled ‘Politicians “of the People” Doth Protest Too Much’.
They are dismayed that the Dail, ‘the institution responsible for drafting laws which the citizens are expected to obey is increasingly populated by individuals who believe such laws do not apply to them’.
They are appalled that some public representatives, let alone ordinary people, dare challenge government policy and power. They state that ‘this lawless attitude is spreading like a virus, particularly among the “can pay, won’t pay” brigade’, referring to the anti-water charge movement.
The notion of a ‘virus’ spreading and ‘infecting’ the country is a recurrent theme among the powerful. It is code for saying, ‘we need to smash this resistance movement to our rule, otherwise, others could get ideas and join the protests, and we’ll lose control and be kicked out of power’.
That’s how dictators in the Middle East were thinking during the Arab Spring. That’s what demonising Syriza by European and Irish elites is about. That’s what the US war on Vietnam and elsewhere to prevent ‘dominoes’ from falling was about, and there are countless other examples past and present. The point is always the same: don’t give oxygen to incipient protest movements, or they could spread like wildfire.
The editors give a few examples of those they want to see put in their place:
– Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, for attempting to search US military airplanes at Shannon airport and refusing to pay their €2,000 fine.
– Joan Collins, for being one of 15 people arrested at a protest against the installation of water meters. The editors were outraged that after being released from garda custody, ‘she didn’t go to work—she returned to the protest’.
– Richard Boyd Barrett, Tommy Broughan, Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty, for announcing they will not pay their water charges.
– And as always, Paul Murphy, who declared, ‘I’m elected to break the law’.
The editors’ conclusion is that such TDs have ‘nothing to offer other than protest’ and that ‘Sinn Fein and a raggle-taggle bunch of left-wing independents are addicted to populism and publicity stunts. They are nowhere near ready to govern, and voters in search of a stable government should reflect on that’.
Another thing we could reflect on is the extreme aversion of elites to democracy and people power. Before anyone says this is conspiracy theory, re-read the above paragraphs: it’s not a conspiracy, it is stated explicitly.
The establishment has indeed good reasons to be worried, as revealed by the survey’s key findings:
– 54% of respondents had never protested before joining the anti-water charge movement.
This means that the water protests have overcome and eliminated atomisation: people do not feel they’re just alone being frustrated and know there are some channels formed to organise and voice their discontent.
Everybody is aware that people around the country are opposed to Irish Water. In November, more than 100 local Right2Water protests took place in Ireland, gathering over 150,000 people. A third of households liable for water charges still have not registered.
No matter the outcome of the water protests, the human and institutional networks formed will outlast them and serve to organise other campaigns on other issues. This is why the current movement is so significant.
– The main reasons for protesting are that ‘austerity has gone too far’, the need to ‘stop the future privatisation of water’ and to ‘abolish water charges’.
This may sound obvious, but it may still come as a surprise to some politicians so out of touch with popular aspirations that it’s almost comical.
For example, the Labour Party’s Eamon Gilmore declared not so long ago that he could not understand the protests, saying: ‘Well I find them hard to understand because in fact the water meters are being installed to enable households to reduce what they will have to pay’.
Go figure. War is Peace, Freedom is Salvery, and Water Meters Save you Money.
– 92% said they wouldn’t pay their water charges and 83% said they would vote for broadly left parties in the next election, including the Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, independents, and Sinn Fein.
A clear majority said they had voted for government parties in 2011 but would not repeat that mistake again. 78% said the most effective way of changing things in this country is through protesting, against only 28% who said it is by contacting a political representative, pointing to the high level of disillusion about the political class.
In short, if there’s one thing that unites this country, it is lack of trust in the political class. Organising the protests into an effective force for change will remain an ongoing challenge, but with potentially far-reaching consequences for real democracy in Ireland.
@JulienMercille is lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (2015, Routledge). His new book, Europe’s Treasure Ireland (Palgrave), will be out in July 2015.