These were the words of Socialist Party TD (Member of the Irish Parliament) Ruth Coppinger when she rose to challenge the Tanáiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Joan Burton in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) on Thursday, February 12 against the shameful political policing that has resulted (at the time of writing) in the arrests of 23 anti-water charges activists and protesters in Dublin.
In the last week Gardai have mounted dawn raids on homes arresting 23 people for participating in a protest against Burton herself in the working class community of Jobstown in Dublin last November.
During the protest her Ministerial Mercedes was impeded for two hours as the protesters staged a peaceful sit-down protest in front of it. For doing so, those who have been arrested face potential charges of unlawful imprisonment of Joan Burton!
An attack on the anti-water charges movement and AAA
Each day we have woken to hear of fresh arrests, with some newspapers reporting (no doubt having been tipped off by the Gardaí) that the number of those arrested is likely to rise to 40 people. This is an attack on the anti-water charges movement that has, after six years of brutal austerity, activated a mass movement of working class people in Ireland since September last year.
It is also an attack on the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) which has been to the forefront of the battle against this austerity tax. Amongst the first group of four to be arrested on Monday, February 9 were Socialist Party members, AAA TD Paul Murphy and AAA Councillors Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon.
Incredibly, six Gardai called to Paul’s home before 7am and brought him to the local Garda station where he was questioned for eight hours. An enormous amount of Garda resources have gone into the arrests that have taken place, for example eight and ten Gardai were deployed to arrest two teenagers aged 14 and 16 years old respectively.
A campaign of political policing
Did Government Ministers put pressure on the Gardai to take these actions? Did Government Ministers give the green light for these actions?
It is entirely possible that they did. But, even if they did not, the Garda action is still political in its essence. The Garda Commissioner is appointed by the Government and both Government and Gardai defend the same capitalist establishment shaken by the power and the scope of the anti-water charges movement.
The role of the Gardai as enforcers for Irish Water, water metering and the hated water charges has torn the veil of Garda “neutrality” and “impartiality” from the eyes of many in recent months.
We demand that this political policing be ended. The Gardai should have no role to play in policing community campaigns and struggles by working class people. Democratic control of the Gardai by working class communities is needed as an alternative to the Gardai being run as a centralised force led by a Government-appointed Commissioner.
This political attack will be fought right down the line until the case is dropped or the charges defeated. Of course, the attack will be fought using legal weaponry - the weak case of the establishment will be subjected to the strongest legal scrutiny and exposure.
But first and foremost, a political attack must be fought politically. A good first step has been the exposing of the hypocrisy of these charges by the AAA and other Left TDs and the protests that have been organised against political policing. Over 600 attended a protest, called at relatively short notice, outside the Department of Justice the day Ruth challenged Joan Burton in the Dail and a similar number protested in Tallaght two days later.
The questions asked by the TDs have weakened the Garda case - Why is a working class community being penalised for actions similar to those taken in the past without penalty by students? Why are such huge Garda resources being put into this case when real crime affecting communities goes unpunished due to scant Garda resources?
A movement that has shook the Government
The anti-water charges movement has clearly shaken the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government and the capitalist establishment generally. A series of mass national demonstrations have seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets and thousands of working class people have been activated in opposition to the charge and to the installation of water metres.
The number of local campaigns that have sprung up is illustrated by the fact that there are approximately 350 Facebook pages of different local campaigns across the country. The scale and size of the movement forced the Government before Xmas to make a number of concessions that included the water charges being introduced at a smaller flat rate charge until 2019 and also that the water pressure of non-payers could not be turned down.
Build mass non-payment and a new left
Just over half of those who were liable to do so registered with Irish water (the company set up to administer the water charge) by the time of the deadline of February 2nd. Polls have consistently shown that one-third of the population will not pay the water charge. In the coming months the AAA and the We Won’t Pay campaign along will be seeking to mass a campaign of mass non-payment to ensure a majority of householders don’t pay may the water charges bills arrive in April and May.
The anti-water charges movement needs to link the defensive battle against the arrests in Jobstown by the state with an offensive one that organises non-payment so that we can sink Irish water and in doing so bring down this austerity government.
The Socialist Party and AAA will be energetically building a campaign to defeat water charges in the coming weeks and months. We also want to build a mass party of the left that can be a real alternative to all the main parties of Ireland’s capitalist class. An active movement of working class people that is based on non-payment of the water charges can lay the real basis for the building of such a party.