The attempt to effectively ban most demonstrations in Dublin O'Conell st collapsed last night (Monday 2nd April 2001 6.30pm City Hall, Dame St.). As the councillors entered city hall they had to pass through one of the largest demonstrations that a council meeting has faced in the last decade. Not surprisingly they then voted 21 - 4 to abandon the plan.
Some 300 to 400 people attended the demonstration (a typical council protest attracts 20-30). These included political groups like the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement, various Leninist's including the SWP, Socialist Party and Workers Party, mainstream parties like Sinn Féin, the Greens and Labour, campaigning groups like Residents against Racism, and others who didn't have banners or placards to identify them by and student unions. There were also large numbers of people who aren't connected with any group but who were outraged by the proposed by laws.
The council's plan was ban demonstrations unless
This attempt to ban demonstrations from Dublin's main street was driven by the shopkeepers who have lined the street with junk food 'restaurants' and chain stores. They see demonstrations as "detrimental to the business life of the city" and obviously see the most important function of a city centre as selling burgers and sweatshop produced 'sports wear'. The rules above would still allow them to organise events if they wished to promote business and of course unlike the average activist group they could find the money required, as they'd expect to make money.
Dublin like all other major western cities has seen a sustained drive to privatise public space over the last decades. The squares of Temple Bar, which appear to be public spaces, are privately owned and the cops are rapidly called if any group of people dare to organise a demonstration there. During the Pat the Baker strike in the 1990's private security regularly tried to prevent the support group distributing leaflets in the car parks of shopping malls in the Dublin suburbs. Like everything else under capitalism the purpose of the streets and squares is seen simply in terms of a way of getting consumers into shops as fast as possible. Anything that interferes in that process is targeted for removal.
Alongside this the various councils in Dublin over the last year have been using the litter act to attack left and activist groups. While business are allowed to clutter up the buildings, road side and bus shelters with advertisements anyone putting up a political sticker or poster or even handing out leaflets has been threatened with fines and several organisations have received substantial fines. This denial of free speech is being presented as a campaign against litter. Yet it is quite obvious that small activists groups do not have the tens of thousands of pounds required to hire bill boards or place advertisements in national papers. In effect if you are rich you can cover the city in huge posters, if you are poor you stand to be prosecuted if you dare to paste up a single A4 poster.
We are often told we live in a free society. The reality is that speech is only free to those who can afford to pay for this freedom.
WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )