Start of the march in Dame Street after rally in Central Plaza
Start of the march in Dame Street after rally in Central Plaza

On Saturday 21 February, at two days’ notice, somewhere between eight and ten thousand people gathered in Dublin in solidarity with those water tax protesters jailed by the State and those recently arrested.  They marched to Mountjoy Prison and packed the road outside it and in front of the local Garda (police station).


Dame St Start March V Repression Water Tax Protesters 21 Feb2015
The march gets going in Dame Street. Photo shows only the front of the march.






Parnell Square West from Granby Place.  The front of the march has turned into Dorset Street and is marching there but the end has yet to come around the corner into the square from Parnell Street
Parnell Square West from Granby Place. The front of the march has turned into Dorset Street and is marching there but the end has yet to come around the corner into the square from Parnell Street

The crowd were addressed by relatives and friends of the jailed, anti-Water Tax campaigners as well as by Paul Murphy, Joan Collins and Clare Daly (both TDs of the United Left) and Dessie Ellis (TD of Sinn Fein).

All of the speakers denounced the politicians and the State for the jailing of the protesters while the bankers and politicians who created the crisis and colluded in the bank bailout went free. Most speakers called on the crowd not to pay the water tax and to build resistance on the streets. Dessie Ellis, in keeping with his party’s position, did not call for non-payment, though he did call for “unity of the Left”. The march was notable for the absence of SF banners and placards — apparerently they were having their own protest at Leinster House.

One of the protesters made an emotional appeal on behalf of two of the five who received jail sentences, who have gone on hunger strike, and on behalf of another, Derek Byrne, also on hunger strike, but who has declared his intention of refusing to take fluids from Monday if he is not released. (NB: Since posting that paragraph it has emerged that the demand of all three hunger-strikers is a return to Mountjoy [they had been separated and sent off to a prison facility near Clondalkin] and an end to 23-hour lockup in their cells. These are basic human rights.)

Large sections of the crowd seemed taken aback by this information and unsure how to react.

Paul Murphy pointed out that this use of the police to attack people protesting injustice has been a feature of the State since its creation and mentioned the threats of jail to striking workers, the jailing of the Rossport Five and of Margaretta D’Arcy. Clare Daly asked the Gardaí which side they were on, that of the polticians and bankers or of the people, saying that if they chose the former it is they who would become isolated, not the protesters. Joan Collins, Murphy and Daly all pointed to the need to create a socialist society. They also, along with most other speakers, called for a build up and huge turn out of support for the demonstration scheduled for March.  Many speakers declared that the increased repression is a sign of the Government’s or the system’s weakness, not of their strength and called on the movement not to falter now.

Robert Ballagh, who also spoke, called for the release of the five and pointed out that the class of people who rule and profit out of this society are not those who find themselves in jails.

Section of the march in Dorset Street, looking west
Section of the march in Dorset Street, looking west (another section is behind the camera — see next photo — but a large section of the march has yet to come around the corner from Parnell Square.)


The same road, photo taken a few seconds later but looking east.
The same road, photo taken a few seconds later but looking east.










The mood of the crowd in general was of good-humoured determination. The composition seemed to cross social groupings, ages and genders and a number had brought their children along. Some had come from other parts of the country.

Crowd outside Mountjoy.  some have left and many are still further down the north Circular Road
Crowd outside Mountjoy. some have left and many are still further down the north Circular Road (the Mater Hospital is to the right of photo).




Dublin South-Central TD Catherine Byrne was warmly applauded when she said that they should ”take back our flag” from people who have been using it in protests against water charges and other issues.  She made the statement at the Fine Gael political party’s two-day conference in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, held under strict security.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys supported that view and told delegates in a secret session on the 1916 commemorations (a session which exposed divisions in the party): ”Some have used our flag to portray a different message – it’s time to reclaim our flag.”

They are both right, in a way.

Listen to this:


“What should I do?” The anguish reached out to me; I felt it empathically. The cry of a person who is prepared to act and wants to change things for the better, to resist what is wrong around us on so many fronts – and that’s the problem.

There so many issues: the Water Tax, the persecution of Republican activists including framing and jailing them, the harassment and torture of Republican prisoners, the threat of fracking, privatisation of resources and services, cuts in services, cuts in salaries, high cost of private accommodation and low social housing provision causing homelessness, the decline of the Irish language and of the Gaeltacht …. and others. And that’s without mentioning international solidarity – and not because I don’t consider that essential, either.

Of course, we can put all these problems down to capitalism and, in the case of repression of Republicans (and with regard to international solidarity), to imperialism …. so let’s just overthrow those systems and then we can sort out those problems! But that leads to the question of “How” which in turn brings one back again to that anguished question, or to its variant “Which problem should I prioritise?”

Indeed, it is a question that cuts to the heart of the matter. For the issues call to us to act and since we can’t be everywhere at once we have to make choices. It is a question as old as class society and speeches are always being made recommending this choice or that while books have been written attempting to answer it. Lenin wrote a series of articles in the revolutionary newspaper Iskra (“Spark”) and published later as a booklet under a title that echoes that very cry above: What Is to Be Done? It had a subtitle too: “Burning questions of our movement” (by which he meant the socialist movement in Russia at the time).

Whether we choose to believe that work was absolutely correct, partly correct or completely wrong is in some ways irrelevant, for it was written for the movement in Russia in 1902 and published in 1905. I happen to think that it contains many useful ideas, although I am aware that there is a view that it has been mistranslated but, even so, in many ways, all that is beside the point. The fact is that today we have no blueprint and nothing more than perhaps the equivalent of a trouble-shooting manual: “for this problem, try this; if that doesn’t work, try that; while doing so beware of that other.” And that manual is cobbled together from older and more recent history of struggles, of analyses of the capitalist system and of how it behaves.

Scary, surely, to go up against a system that has ruled for around four centuries, that has spread across the world, that controls education, mass media, the State with its police, judges, prison and armed forces – and all without us having a blueprint. Well, if it’s any consolation, the capitalists don’t have a blueprint either … or if they do, they keep having to ignore it and react to events which they have not been able to predict, as well as to the extent of resistance for which they were unprepared. And they clearly make mistakes. Still, 400 years is a long time … a long time for them to learn tactics and strategy and to get comfortable in control and a long time to make us think that we can’t defeat them.

We can defeat them, of course and the indications from history and the internal workings of capitalism — and of its offshoot imperialism — are that we will. But what to do to make that happen? Yes, back to that question. And to the one that logically follows it: which issue to prioritise? For none of us is capable of being everywhere at once and even stretching over a few issues at a time begins to tear at our fabric.

The Marxist-Leninist approach argues for the creation of a revolutionary party that will make decisions on prioritisation and allocate resources to those struggles it chooses as it does so. Of course, the party will make mistakes from time to time and it will learn from those, getting better as it goes along. That’s the theory anyway. In application, or in alleged application, the results have not vindicated the theory – not in the long run, or even in the medium-term. Sure, we have been at it for less than 200 years: the first time workers captured a city was in 1871 and the first successful overthrow of the State was in Russia in 1917, very nearly a century ago. Much less time to learn, to make mistakes and to correct them but still ….

Of course, the alternative method of organising has even less to recommend it on results: amorphous, disparate collectives have not ever successfully overthrown a State and even their success in capturing a city (Barcelona, 1936) is debatable.

So, what is to be done? How to decide which struggle to prioritise? This is not a question I think can be answered by pointing and saying “That one and no other” or even, except at rare junctures, “That one and no other for the moment”. Individuals, collectives and parties will need to choose from the selection as a painter chooses from a palette: “this colour now, then that, no, scrub that one, now mix this with that, no, a bit more light …” and so on, always working towards the desired result which, although in the head, is also taking place on the canvas and making its own demands as it does so.

The truth is that all of those issues I mentioned in passing at the start of this piece, all of those, need addressing. All of them need people to fight in them. That is because they are all part of the same problem and also because we can’t just allow a cancer to grow unchecked in one part of the body while we address the tumours in another. Some individuals and perhaps even collectives are better suited to fight on some issues than on others: for example, a factory shop committee is probably not best placed to lead the struggle against fracking in a rural area, while a rural environmental collective is probably not in the best position to lead the struggle against the Water Tax. Individuals will need to pick and choose according to their own situation, their locality, their own knowledge.

And that would be fine, if the resistance movement as a whole were integrated enough to make creative use of that disparity – for particular struggles to be able to call for temporary additional resources and to be heard by the whole resistance movement, so that it could try to allocate those resources to one or other sector as seemed appropriate. But the resistance movement is far from integrated – it is fragmented and, even worse, it suffers from something akin to schizophrenia.

There a number of ways to imagine schizophrenia and the most popular is to see it as the development of two or more personalities in the one individual. But another is to see it as a disintegration of the personality – where the various aspects in our minds break free and appear as distinct personalities in themselves. The voices that speak in our heads to say things like “You shouldn’t have done that” or “Please make that happen” break free and seem to become different personalities. At times they conflict with one another while the central core personality tries to make sense of what is going on. Something like that, anyway. It is in that sense that I think the resistance movement in Ireland suffers from schizophrenia.

The splitting off of aspects of the revolutionary movement in Ireland has been towards two major poles of attraction: the Socialist one and the Republican. Of course there are some elements who incorporate both to one degree or another but I think examining them as distant poles of attraction is useful and much closer to their concrete manifestation within the revolutionary movement.  In order to examine them as opposite poles I think it is also useful to imagine a stereotype individual inhabiting each pole. Let us then imagine a stereotypical Irish Republican and a stereotypical Irish Socialist.

The Irish Republican is probably working class or maybe lower middle class; he may or may not have done well at secondary education but in any case he is unlikely to have gone to university. He sees himself in a tradition of resistance to British Colonialism and Imperialism stretching back at least to the United Irishmen and perhaps even back to the Norman conquest which began in 1169. His priority is the removal of the British from Ireland. He experiences “political policing” (of which some socialists are now complaining) practically from the moment he becomes publicly active – he has had his name and address taken by Special Branch and/or RUC/PSNI and they have opened a file on him. The Republican’s recent predecessors have been jailed (as are some of his contemporaries now), beaten or even shot dead; they were engaged in armed struggle against the colonial and imperial armed forces in the Six Counties for 30 years and perhaps he looks forward to take the gun up again some day, to strike back at the colonial overlord. He will turn out on demonstrations and pickets against repression of Republican activists, in support of Republican prisoners, including framed ones. He will almost certainly attend mass demonstrations against the Water Tax and may participate in local direct action against it. The Republican’s idealogues are Wolf Tone, Patrick Pearse and Bobby Sands.

The Irish socialist is probably medium or lower middle class and has finished secondary education; she has almost certainly gone on to university. She sees herself as belonging to a tradition of only a couple of centuries, with an Irish tradition going back to the early part of the 20th Century, in particular to the 1913 Lockout and the Limerick Soviet of 1919. She may or may not give a high place in her history to the Irish Citizen Army in the 1916 Rising. Her priority is the defeat of the capitalist class, probably in Ireland first but will turn out in demonstrations against racism, gender discrimination and homophobia in Ireland. The Irish Socialist aspires to a general strike giving rise to a revolutionary take over of the State; in the interim she may or may not think electing left-wing TDs or trade union officials an important activity. She probably can’t conceive of taking up a gun. The Irish Socialist has never had her name taken by the Special Branch or been framed by the RUC/PSNI and may never even have been detained by the police, though she has probably been pushed around by them. She will almost certainly attend mass demonstrations against the Water Tax and may participate in local direct action against this Tax. Her idealogues are Karl Marx, Lenin, possibly Trotsky and James Connolly.

Granted these are stereotypes but they are not so far from reality as to be unhelpful in describing in turn many and perhaps most Irish Republicans and Socialists and therefore in identifying one of the principal fracture lines in the Irish movement of resistance.

If the Republican and the Socialist parts of the Irish resistance movement were to be combined, or at the very least to work on a more collaborative basis, the “What should I do?” question would be easier to answer. It would be simpler to be on a picket for prisoners one week and resisting water meters the next, even if one’s main sphere of activity were among Republicans. The socialist could attend a picket against cuts one week and one for the human rights of Republican prisoners on another, even if her main sphere of activity was among Socialists. But that is not the situation that exists at the moment and, though a number of attempts have been made to combine the two trends in one organisation, they have not met with any great success to date.

So, I have not yet answered the question, have I? Am I saying that what we should be doing is creating some kind of synthesis or at least a collaborative alliance between the the socialist and republican parts of the resistance movement? Well, yes, certainly. But also, and as a contribution to that, as individuals we should try and spread our activity between the areas of greatest concern of each of those sections of the resistance movement. We should, I think, take some time to support resistance to the water tax, demonstrations against cuts etc. in their own right but also find some time to support resistance to British colonialism and its repression of Republican political activists. “If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem” may be a glib truism but it is particularly applicable in this case.

So, how will we find the time to spread ourselves around? How do we ever? We balance and juggle priorities between our politically active and our social lives, with employment thrown in when we have a job. Or upskilling or studying. And possibly cultural or sporting or other activities. But how to choose, how to prioritise? Each of us has to make those decisions herself and himself. Not a very helpful answer? Well, I did state earlier on that there wasn’t a blueprint, so I couldn’t have one myself, could I? This however I feel fairly confident in predicting: if we don’t find a way to support both those parts of the resistance movement to some degree, it will always be fractured. And while it is so, it cannot be successful in either ridding Ireland of our capitalist classes or in finally throwing off the colonial yoke.


New Song: They’re Stealing Our Water

Black n Tans lorry plus RIC
British colonial police in Ireland, Auxilliaries and RIC in Dublin raid during War of Independence 1920 or 1921.
Cromwellian Massacre at Drogheda
Drawing depicting Cromwellian troops massacre at Drogheda 1649

A little bit rough in places but think I should get it out now and hopefully get people singing it ASAP.  I am surprised no-one seems to have used this tune, The Sea Around Us, and the mention of “water”, already.  Thanks to Ruairi O’Broin at the February session of Song Central for suggesting the “bank guarantee” line in the chorus, much better than what I had there originally.

Amended a little again since I wrote the above but still not sat down and really consistently worked at it.


Diarmuid Breatnach (To the air of “The Sea Around Us”, also known as “The sea, Oh the sea”)


The sea, oh the sea, a ghrá gheal mo chroí,

‘though long it may roll between England and we,

We’ve still got our gombeens* with a bank guarantee

and by God, they’re stealing our water!

(The chorus can go in after each verse, or each second, as people prefer).


The Norse came to Ireland right outa’ the blue,

took us as slaves and plundered and slew

But their days were numbered from Clontarf they knew

— they never troubled us much for the after.


Then the English came over our patience to try,

our land for to steal and our culture deny

And they took all that we had … I tell you no lie —

but at least they left us our water!


‘Twas many a hard battle with them we fought,

as used be our wont and indeed so we ought;

but as time went by, it all came to naught

and they put poor aul’ Erin in a halter.


But we rose up once more and again and again —

we had stalwart youth and women and men;

We fought them in city and mountain and glen

and forced them their plans for to alter.


Then those who at our struggle took fright

stepped in and took over the fruits of our fight;

The Gombeens and Church turned our dawn into night

and in a wink we were back under the halter!  


The parasites live off our sweat and our blood — 


they’d tax the very air that we breathe if they could;

But our media says to resist is not good …

and compliance would get us much further.


Our resources are for the people to share in —

is linne ar fad é, uisce na hÉireann;

and it’s now the baton and prison we’re darin’ —

they’ll not steal from our sons and our daughters!


The people are standing firm and steady —

we know we’ve paid for the water already!

Our banners unfurled and more things ready:

You can be sure this time we won’t falter!

February 2015.

Dennis O Brien
Denis O’Brien, a billionaire widely believed to have plans to buy Irish Water if/when it becomes privatised. He is a major shareholder in Sierra Construction, the company installing water meters and also in Independent Newspapers. The Moriarty Tribunal found that he had benefited from information from the Irish Minister for telecommunications whom O’Brien had paid €50,000 through circuitous channels. The information had assisted him in bidding for the mobile phone contract, which he later sold at a personal profit of €317 a few years later.
Brian Cowen
Brian Cowen, former Taoiseach (equivalent to Prime Minister in the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition Government 2011, which began the bank bailout.
Joan Burton angry maybe
Joan Burton (Labour), Minister for Social Protection in the Labour-Fine Gael coalition Government at time of writing


Enda Kenny winking
Enda Kenny (Fine Gael), Taoiseach (equvalent to Prime Minister) in the Labour-Fine Gael coalition Government at time of writing



Water Tax Demo crowd

* “Gombeen”, from the Irish “Gaimbíneach” is a profiteer, a venal person, a moneylender, a capitalist.