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(en) Ireland: MEDIA, A May Day show of might

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 25 Apr 2004 13:03:08 +0200 (CEST)


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Gardaí are ready for violence at next Saturday's protests, but some
believe there's another agenda, writes Joe Humphreys.
In the darkened bowels of a semi-derelict warehouse, one of the
masterminds of the May Day protests discusses plans for the event. The
self-declared anarchist Aileen O'Carroll [WSM member] is wary of being
interviewed. The circles in which she mixes are awash with rumours
about "narcs" - undercover gardaí - infiltrating the protest movement.
Next door to where we meet, youths daub the walls with slogans. Loud
music pumps through the building as they go about their work . . . Hang
on! Start that again.

We meet in a community centre off Mountjoy Square - a haven for
grassroots campaign groups that can't find accommodation in a city of
rising rent prices. She is wearing lots of pink. Pink scarf. Pink
shoulder bag. Aileen O'Connell is an anarchist who accessorises.

There is suspicion in her voice because, she explains, "I've had loads
of journalists ring me up over the past week, and only one has asked me
what I believe in. I'm bored of all this talk of hairy, scary monsters
who are supposedly going to cause trouble. It's like talking about
monsters under the bed."

Next door, fellow activists are converting an empty hall into a
multimedia drop-in facility, complete with mini-cinema, art exhibition
and murals featuring messages calling for peace, love and social
justice . . .

Two accounts of the same scene this week. Both accurate descriptions.
But only one is a fair picture. It is an easy trap to fall into:
labelling those behind next Saturday's demonstrations as shady,
sinister types who don't organise things but rather "plot". The Garda
Representative Association (GRA) certainly fell for it this week when,
in the latest edition of its newsletter, it warned that protesters
hell-bent on "mindless thuggery" planned to "usurp" the EU presidency's
big bash in Dublin on May 1st. Questioning the use of unarmed gardaí on
front-line duty, the editorial made reference to the recent
train-bombings in Madrid, and the need to tackle violence "on all
levels of society". Then it added, forebodingly: "As we prepare to
embrace new states into Europe, it is likely that the welcome
celebrations will be marred by those who have an agenda for violence
and disruption."

"Anarchism is being used as shorthand for terrorism at the moment,
which is quite frustrating," says O'Carroll, a 34-year-old sociology
lecturer at UCD. "There are lots of misconceptions about anarchists. We
believe in a theory of organisation that combines economic equality and
grassroots democracy, and our demonstrations are designed to get people
talking about different aspects of EU policy. The last thing we want is
clashes."

O'Carroll is an appointed spokeswoman for Dublin Grassroots Network
(DGN), the main organisers of next Saturday's protests. Among the
events planned are street theatre, a bicycle-rally and "bring the
noise" - a boisterous march to the heads of state banquet at Farmleigh
House in Phoenix Park. A left-wing alliance, under the banner Another
Europe Is Possible (AEIP), is organising a parallel march from Dame
Street to the park.

Both groups have promised to protest peacefully, and distance
themselves from any troublemakers who might latch onto the parades.
Neither is forecasting conflict. Nor even are they predicting large
turnouts. So why has the Garda mounted one of the biggest security
operations ever seen in the State? And, make no mistake, it is a
mammoth operation.

For the past six months, gardaí from commissioner level down have been
meeting to discuss possible security threats on the day. The Crime and
Security Section at Garda Headquarters in Phoenix Park has been
gathering intelligence through Interpol on possible troublemakers
travelling to the Republic from Europe. Water cannons have been
borrowed from the Police Service of Northern Ireland to act as back-up
to both uniformed gardaí and specially-trained public order units which
are ready to deploy up to 1,000 bodies to police the event. Immigration
checks have been strengthened at airports and ports, and all Garda
leave has been cancelled for the weekend. In total, between 4,000 and
6,000 gardaí - or between a third and a half of the force - are due to
be deployed on EU presidency-related duties on May Day.

More than 2,500 Defence Forces troops have also been deployed for
security on May 1st. The Army's chemical, biological, radiological and
nuclear unit has been put on stand-by, while other troops will help
gardaí to secure key installations around the capital, including Dublin
Airport. In addition, senior gardaí have told hospitals to have their
emergency contingency plans at the ready, in the event of serious civil
unrest. The owners of student hostels and other accommodation popular
with backpackers have also been warned to be on the lookout for
visitors acting suspiciously.

The Garda is refusing to disclose exact details of its policing
arrangements until later this week - apparently to avoid handing the
initiative to the protesters - and won't confirm or deny claims that
armed gardaí will patrol the streets in the days running up to the
event, or that private security contractors will be drafted in to do
frontline muscle work. O'Carroll and others claim such stories, backed
by unnamed "Garda sources", are left hanging in the public domain to
discourage people from turning up next Saturday.

Aisling Reidy, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, says:
"The hype and selective leaks of security correspondence appears to be
aimed at softening people up for an inevitable confrontation, and that
is irresponsible. It seems to be part of a strategy to prepare the
public for clashes so that if there is similar heavy-handedness and
brutality to that seen [in the Reclaim the Streets demonstration] in
May 2002 the blame has already been laid on others.

"Of course, if gardaí have intelligence they have the right to put in
place proper precautions. But there is also a right to peaceful protest
and there are obligations on the State to facilitate that right. If
there is a threat of violence, gardaí have positive duties to ensure
that such violence does not interfere with legitimate protest."

Incidentally, Garda sources told The Irish Times that no uniformed
gardaí would be armed next weekend. However, they said, a team of armed
detectives and officers from the Emergency Response Unit would be on
stand-by.O'Carroll also accepts the Garda needs an emergency plan to
guard against public disorder "but this has gone way beyond that". She
says a number of activists coming out of DGN meetings have been stopped
by gardaí and asked their names and addresses. The same thing happened
to volunteers who did leaflet drops, advertising the May Day protests,
in north Dublin this week.

As for the prospect of "known troublemakers" coming to Dublin from
other European countries, AEIP coordinator Rory Hearne says "it's
nonsense". Only a handful of overseas activists are expected to travel,
most of them having been billed to make speeches or perform in street
theatre. None of those involved in the notorious protests in Genoa in
2001, when a demonstrator was killed in violent clashes with Italian
police, is planning to come, he adds. O'Carroll claims that people in
the anti-globalisation movement worldwide are "moving towards
demonstrating in their own country rather than travelling. There is a
sense now that it's important to focus on where you are."

Ciaran Moore of the Internet-based media forum Indymedia says activists
have also moved away from "stylised confrontations" with police as they
have found them counterproductive. "People are trying to avoid either,
one, marching up and down O'Connell Street and making a speech or, two,
getting into a shouting match with gardaí." At a protest last year at
Shannon Airport over US military stopovers, for example, he says,
instead of squaring up to the gardaí "250 people lined up side by side
and did the can-can. It's about trying to make your point with a bit of
playfulness."

The only foreigners he is aware of travelling to Dublin are a team of
Indymedia colleagues from the UK and France who plan to run workshops
on self-publishing for Irish activists. Moore says up to 60 people will
be armed with video cameras - "the new fashion accessory for this kind
of event" - as well as digital cameras and mobile phones, the latter of
which can be used for "mob-logging", or sending voice snippets directly
onto the web.

On the face of it, the huge injection of Garda resources into policing
May Day appears to have less to do with the threat of major public
disorder than the knowledge that mishandling any threat could have
disastrous public relations consequences for the force. Last January,
Swedish police were accused by a government-sponsored report of having
"serious deficiencies", and lacking professionalism, in their handling
of demonstrations at an EU summit in Gothenburg three years ago. For
the Garda, next Saturday is a crucial opportunity to prove its levels
of professionalism have improved since the Reclaim the Streets debacle.

Meanwhile, activists believe the real reason for the hype is to
pre-empt what is potentially a much more explosive occasion in June.
"This sets precedent for the Bush visit," says Hearn. "It all ties
together. They make things up to try to justify a war on Iraq. Then,
they make things up about us when we try to protest about it."

Activities and activism What's on for May 1st

What the Government wants you to do

Dublin: After a fireworks spectacular on Sandymount Strand on Friday
night, punters are urged to go to Merrion Square from noon to 8 p.m.
Saturday where a "European Fair" will be catering for an estimated
100,000 visitors. The Day of Welcomes will feature events in 10 other
towns and cities, including:

Waterford: Daytime fireworks, go-kart racing and children's festival.

Kilkenny: European Fair and parade.

Sligo: Hungarian and Irish folk music.

Limerick: Street theatre, concert at King John's Castle, and lights
show on the Abbey River.

Letterkenny: Polish theatre troupe leading a night-time carnival
through the town.

Bray: Street theatre and music.

Drogheda: Multimedia performances and the State Choir of Latvia.

Galway: Late-night concert on Friday from the Estonian Philharmonic
Chamber Orchestra, followed by animation film festival.

Killarney: Street theatre and gypsy music concert.

Cork: Music on Patrick Street, and arts, crafts and food fair in
Fitzgerald's Park.

www.eu2004.ie

What the protesters would rather you did:

Dublin: After a mass cycle and walk through the city on Friday evening,
supporters of the Dublin Grassroots Network are urged to gather for No
Borders Morning - the mock arrest of immigrants and asylum seekers - at
Wood Quay at 10 a.m. on Saturday. "Anti-privatisation actions", under
the banner Reclaim the City, begin at 2.30 p.m. on Grafton Street while
the Bring The Noise parade to Farmleigh House leaves Parkgate
Street/Benburb Street at 6 p.m.

Protesters are urged to bring "saucepan lids and spoons, pots and pans,
whistles and kazoos, sound systems and foghorns, musical instruments,
drums and any other noise-making instruments you can get your hands on.
We intend to get as close to Farmleigh as possible so that those inside
can hear our chorus as they eat their expensive fine meals."

Meanwhile, Another Europe is Possible - led by the Socialist Workers'
Party - is organising a Carnival for a Better World with speakers,
including author Susan George, at noon on Dame Street. To be followed
by a march to Phoenix Park.

www.geocities.com/eufortress
www.indymedia.ie

[from Irish Times Weekend Section]


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