Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Sad Day for Dublin

I went into town today to watch a couple of films and to see the Love Ulster march. I wasn’t there to participate; I wasn’t there to protest. My plan was to go into the second floor of Supermac’s or Easons and just watch history go by. It’s been something like 70 years since Orangemen marched in the streets of Dublin and it felt like it could be a turning point.

My feelings about the march were somewhat complex. I had concerns about the safety and viability of the march. I also had some concerns about the purity of the marchers’ intentions. I suspected that besides calling attention to victims of sectarian terrorism, they were also here to try to pick a fight. I’d hoped that Dublin would be above responding to any perceived petty provocation.

I liked Sean Moncrieff’s suggestion of carrying signs that said “Welcome to YOUR Capital City.” But because it seemed like provocation was part of the intention, I didn’t want to do anything to actively acknowledge or encourage the marchers. I just wanted to see the thing happen.

But, as we all know, it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because of a couple of hundred young, angry men who were happy to be provoked. I am very sad and angry about what happened and it’s difficult to crystallize my thoughts.

I was at the intersection of Parnell Street and O’Connell Street. I saw the mob create the barrier out of the temporary fencing that was meant to protect the building supplies. I saw the mob throwing bricks and bottles at the riot police. I saw broken windows, a broken fire hydrant, small fires. I watched all this from behind the safety of a temporary fence, clearly delineating the unruly mob from the passersby.

I was there when the police moved the crowd down the street and I have nothing but good words for the professionalism of the police. They held the line with fireworks going off in their faces. Iwatched them move the mob down the street and my first impulse was to clean up the mess. To do something to show that these couple of hundred people with covered faces did not represent Dublin.

I wanted to watch what was happening, so I cut down some side streets and then got back onto O’Connell Street only to find that I was now on the wrong side of the police cordon. It felt like I was standing on the edge of a frying pan and that the grease might start boiling and splattering soon. This area of O'Connell Street did not have a handy fence to separate the protesters from the rest of the Saturday afternoon crowd. When the police line moved, I got out of the way and let them move. I did see some truncheon swinging but it was only when provoked.

Strangely, it felt more dangerous to be on the “right” side of the police cordon, as the mob’s projectiles were easily winging over the line. Rocks. Bicycle tires. Bottles. This is when I left. It was clear the situation had progressed far past the point of control. Anything could happen and I didn’t want to be any part of it. Not in any way.

This shouldn’t have happened. There’s the issue of preparation – on all sides. Sinn Fein told people to stay home. That was entirely unrealistic. If a group of hard-core republicans wanted to stop the march, then they should have organized a sit-in or some other peaceful civil disobedience measure. Creating a riot and trashing Dublin’s main street was counterproductive and disgraceful.

The City Council, the city planners, and the gardai should have recognized that a poorly secured building site was an open invitation to would-be rioters. The supplies should have either been removed or they should have been guarded. I didn’t get there until the barrier-building was well underway, so I can’t say how many gardi were on hand at the start or how the crowd was able to congregate on O’Connell Street. But it seems to me like it wouldn’t have taken the Kaiser Chiefs to predict what was going to happen and better planning and better use of resources could have prevented it.

But there’s a more important issue here – one I’ve been thinking about all day. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom to assemble are the fundamental building blocks of a functioning participatory democracy. Whether you agree with the Orangemen or not, they deserve the right to air their views.

Here’s the thing about open discourse, it allows the bigots to be exposed for what they are. When you have an open exchange of ideas, you’re able to debate, refute, and educate. Answering bigoted ideas with overreaction and violence is like pumping oxygen into a fire. Sometimes, you have to let a fire use up all its oxygen and burn itself out.

Instead of letting the march unfold peacefully, a small group of people decided to create barricades, set fires, and create an atmosphere of violence and mayhem. It was disgraceful and counterproductive. It handed a moral victory to the Orangemen and made Dublin look bad.


At 26 February 2006 at 01:12, Blogger Declan said...

Good post. I missed the start of the trouble so I was walking through the rubble when I found the riot was still going on close by. I like your photographs. I was behind the police lines and like you I didnt find it too comfortable, especially when I was up against the crowd barriers with a crowd packed against my back and rioters in front. Though I dont think I would have been brave enough to sit in no-mans land and take the photos you got, well done.

At 26 February 2006 at 14:14, Blogger Terri said...

I had absolutely no idea any of this was going on until I saw the News on TV last night. It hit home a little hard. I come from a country that is no stranger to violence and riots - South Africa in the 80s was no picnic. This reminds me just a little too much of that type of thing and I must say I find it a tad disturbing - these are not the sort of images we really expect to see in Dublin these days, are they? Glad I didn't decide to go shopping in town yesterday in my ignorance! Good photos, Ann.

At 26 February 2006 at 22:49, Blogger CW said...

And the scum who started the rioting claim to support a democratic state of free speech and equality, yet they won't let their fellow countrymen and women hold a peaceful demo in their capital city ...words cannot describe them.

Much criticism must also be levelled at the Gardai, whose inability to predict the scale of the violence beggars belief. You'd think they'd have the intelligence sources to anticipate this kind of trouble. It made them look like "Dad's Army" crossed with the keystone cops.

At 27 February 2006 at 16:07, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Good post. Be careful and stay safe.

At 27 March 2006 at 21:26, Blogger Wicked Witch said...

This post is so typical of over-privileged, spoon-fed AmeriKKKans who as bystanders to some of the most heinous atrocities Empire has every committed, will not lift a bloody finger to stop the violence lest they lose their white privileges, or at the very least manifest solidarity (rather than sanctimonious condemnation) with the oppressed, indigenous peoples in their own country or in Ireland.

You sound like a prissy church lady turning her nose up at physical resistance to imperial exploitation, all the while benefitting from that exploitation both at home in AmeriKKKa and abroad.

Do nothing, ignorant, ugly Americans. Uggghh. You'd probably say the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto handed the Nazi's a moral victory by refusing to get on the trains compliantly.

What a bend over...

Next thing you'll be telling me a woman becomes "just like them" when she resists rape by kicking her oppressor right where it hurts to stop the violation. Yeah, right. She's gonna automatically grow a penis and start raping everything in sight because she defended herself.

What are you, four years old? Jesus.


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