The long march on Farmleigh - Dublin EU summit protest Mayday 2004

In terms of the development of a libertarian movement in Ireland the march on the EU summit at Farmleigh will probably be seen as a turning point. For the first time the movement mobilized large number of people from outside its own ranks, in a demonstration that was in direct defiance of the Irish governments attempt to ban such demonstrations.

Pic: The front of the march on Farmleigh on the Navan road. From, photographer not credited there. I'd no camera with me so all these photos come from indymedia, photographer is credited with the name used to post them to indymedia

The march was just one aspect of a weekend of activities that had been planned and prepared for over the 6 or so months before the Mayday weekend by the Dublin Grassroots Network. I intend to write on or link to stories about each of these in due course, as all were worthwhile. Here I concentrate on the march on Farmleigh.

The idea of marching on Farmleigh came up early on in DGN planning meetings. Not everyone thought this was a great idea. Some thought all our actions should involved direct action and others doubted that we could get enough people to go on a march to make it worthwhile. Nevertheless after some discussion the idea of a 'Bring the noise' march on Farmleigh was agreed as one of a number of events for the weekend. As with all the other events the details were left to be worked out by an autonomous sub group of those interested in the march.

The 'Bring the noise' theme was inspired by demonstrations in Argentina in recent years, which were in turn inspired, by demonstrations against the dictatorship in Chile. The core idea is that everyone brings some noisy implement (e.g. pot lids) to make as much noise a possible. We recognized that there was no way the government would allow a march to get within sight of the EU heads of state but we figured we might get close enough for them to hear us.

The plans for the 'Bring the noise' march were released on the DGN web site and included in the 50,000 leaflets DGN published. Thousands of stickers and posters that also advertised the meeting up point at Parkgate street were also prepared and would be distributed in the weeks before the demonstration.

The media storm that then broke surprised us. We had expected a certain number of scare stories about violent protesters but we were not prepared for headlines like 'Anarchist army plans bloodbath in Ireland' or 'Anarchists to gas 10,000 people'. Almost immediately it became clear that the government had ordered the Gardai to identify the Farmleigh march as a major threat of violence. We were told 15,000 foreign anarchists were on their way to Ireland and that the flash point was to be Parkgate street around the time our march was due to start.

In the early days no government or Gardai source was willing to put their names to such crazy scare stories. Instead stories citing unnamed sources were written by the crime correspondents of the papers. As the nature of the 'crime correspondents' job is to lick up to the Gardai press office in return details of the latest rape and murder stories it was quite clear who these unnamed sources were. We also had tabloid journalists claiming to have infiltrated meetings of those planning to travel to Ireland; meetings that invariably turned out to be publicly open and publicly advertised events.

The government created a feeding frenzy of scare stories from these leaks where absurdity would be piled on absurdity. Each new absurd claim would be the background for the announcement of the preparation of more repression for the weekend; this in turn would justify the next absurd claim. Many would have been amusing (remember the 'sharpened CD's to be thrown Ninja style'!) were they not being used to throw people into jail and to launch a large-scale harassment campaign of activists trying to advertise the events.

Although DGN was caught by surprise by the sheer volume and absurdity of these accusations luckily we had decided to set up a fairly large media-working group, which included 4-mandated spokespeople. Once this was up and running we successfully poured cold water on many of these scares and in particular the DGN appearance on the Late Late Show which gave DGN a human face undermined the more absurd stories.

In the days afterwards for the first time sources started to be given for the stories and ministers appeared on radio to debate us, or more accurately misrepresent the reasons for our protest. Best of all the same crime correspondents who had peddled the most ludicrous scare stories now came out with 'well these were just worse case scenarios'. Some of the tabloids continued to spread scare stories but with others publishing articles at least partially rubbishing these scares anyone paying attention was becoming more and more aware of what was going on.

As we rolled into the last few days before the protest we started to get some positive coverage although we had great difficulty getting any media interested in the issues we were protesting about. However despite police harassment the bulk of our leaflets were being distributed and fresh posters and stickers advertising the events were going up as fast as the government, working through the local council, get tear them down. All the scare stories had also had the effect of everyone knowing that protests were going to take place over the weekend.

Perhaps most amusingly the government suddenly realized that the scare stories were also terrifying those they hoped would attend the remaining public welcome events. We were treated to the hilarious sound of the Minister for European Affairs, Dick Roche, on national radio trying to explain that even the 'violent protesters' had no record of targeting public event. These just days after Bertie had labeled all those who intended to protest as hooligans!

Watercannon at the Ashtown gate
Pic: Watercannon in action on the Navan road: From by Chekov

On the Thursday before the summit march the government played its last card. It ordered the Gardai to prevent our march taking place. An alarmist Prime Time on RTE (state TV) that evening included a detailed plan as to how uniformed Gardai had been ordered to attack our march as it made its way down the south quays and how the riot squad would be waiting to attack anyone who reached our assembly point at Parkgate street. The word ban was never used but it was clear that in effect the government had banned a peaceful but noisy march.

Finding this out some 40 hours before the march was due to start caused something of a panic. We expected to have a number of people with us throughout the day and that group could try and march through the pre-meditated Gardai assault to the march assembly point. However as the whole point of calling the march was to give more people a chance to join us this would have made very little sense.

On the Friday morning the people who had been planning the details of the Farmleigh march got together with a number of other DGN people who happened to be in the indymedia centre. We put a proposal to them that we would shift the assembly point to O'Connell street and call a protest rally there for 6pm against the government's decision to ban the march. To that rally we would put the proposal that the best way to protest the ban was to defy it and march on Farmleigh where the summit was to take place.

Notices were circulated on indymedia and a press release was issued. The media work turned out to be very important here as it was the only way we had to inform the bulk of the population that the new assembly point for the march was a couple of kilometers from the previously advertised point.

That evening after the Critical Mass we got together the remaining people who had volunteered to help out on the Farmleigh march and sketched out the new plan with them including agreeing a new route. We also decided that if we reckoned some people would try and push through police lines that we would halt the march at a great enough distance for this to happen without people on the march being unwittingly sucked into such an effort.

From the start the Farmleigh march had been argued for as a non-confrontational event that anyone could turn up for with a minimum risk of arrest. To make this very clear we had issued guidelines in advance of the march explaining this and asking those who wanted to go beyond these guidelines to do so separately from the march. This was not because we had any ideological objections to such an attempt; it was simply that we wanted to tell people who were thinking about coming exactly what they could expect.

This had been a subject of some controversy in particular with the relatively small numbers of international activists who had arrived in Dublin. Some were inclined to misread the guidelines as either an ideological statement of pacifism or as an insistence that everyone, everywhere in the city must follow them. For the most part this was cleared up at a meeting involving most DGN activists and most of the internationals. One tactical difference that still existed was on the question of what we would do when we got to a police line. The guidelines clearly stated that we would not try and push through but many people both Irish and international felt that at least a token effort should be made.

Pic: Front of march forms up on O'Connell street. From by Chekov

While we respected their freedom to adopt different tactics we needed to also stick to the guidelines we issued. We figured the best way to do this would be to halt our march some 100m short of the police lines so that those who wanted to push through could leave it and so try to push through without automatically involving everyone else when the police attacked.

By the time Saturday morning dawned we did not know what to expect. Would our new assembly point be announced by the media? Would the riot police attempt to occupy that as well? Would people be scared away or would they react against the scare stores and the ban by tuning up.

The early news was not good. Only 100 turned up for the first event and 8 of these were cops disguised as demonstrators, two with face masks (the only masked up people on the protest at that point). We also heard that the trotskyist organizers of a rival march (the AEIP carnival) had actually announced on a Newstalk106 (Dublin news station) that our march was cancelled and so that everyone should go on theirs instead.

However as the day progressed things got better. But lunchtime there were a couple of thousand of us and most of the radio news bulletins were announcing our new assembly point. They were also giving regular updates on what we were doing; this apparently created a good sense of momentum if you were listening to the reports at home.

Just after five o'clock we literally crossed the last major barrier when over 1,000 of us marched from the south side of the city to the north. This meant we had got lots of people along with our banners and flags across the river that divides the city. We had feared that the police might try and close the river bridges to prevent us doing so.

Around 1,000 people marched to the assembly point arriving before 6pm. Within 20 minutes we were joined by thousands more. The government's tactics had backfired big time and a demonstration I had hoped might break the 1,500 mark had three or four times as many people on it.

It is worth noting at this point that as usual there is some controversy about just how many did turn up. My own estimates would be that over 5,000 were at the start up point and over half of these marched most of the way to Farmleigh with us. By the time we reached the police line some 6km from our start point some 2000 remained. Others have different estimates. While, by international standards, this is a fairly small crowd, in the Irish context it was huge. The biggest previous turnout on a libertarian organized demonstration would have been the 300 or so who showed up for the anti-war direct action at Shannon airport in March 2003. With few exceptions left marches typically attract around 1,000 people or less.

As the numbers were more than we had hoped for we were under prepared for communicating with this many people. While we really needed a PA and a truck to speak from we made do with a megaphone and standing in a shopping trolley. Three people spoke and the under the statue of Jim Larkin the proposal was put to the crowd that we march on Farmleigh. Those that could hear assented and those who couldn't got to vote with their feet!

Pic: Meeting in progress on O'Connell street: From by Noise machine

Pic: Meeting in progress on O'Connell street: From by Noise machine

We formed up behind the DGN banner which read 'No border, no nations; Against a Europe of capital'. The entire front of the march was made up of anarchist flags and banners followed by a black bloc formation and then the rest of the march. Out front of the banners were a hundred or so media jostling for the best spot and asking which way we were going.

They weren't told because although we were going to follow the most obvious route we wanted to keep this known only to a very small group who would lead the march. This would give us some chance of delaying a Gardai blocking operation and force the journalists to march with us rather than wait behind police lines. We figured better to have them embedded with us than the cops.

Right at the start some people let the media know what we had thought of their coverage to date by spraying 'liars' on the side of RTE, the state broadcasters, TV van. This of course made the news; there is no story so important to journalists than one about themselves. A couple of stupid minor scuffles broke out between people on the black bloc and journalists who shoved cameras in their faces. However given the level of media hysteria and the tension of not knowing what the Gardai would do the vast majority of journalists were treated considerably better by us than they were to be treated by the Gardai (who hit some and water cannoned others). And a least one camera man actually punched someone on the bloc after he was pushed to one side as it passed! Some media outlets tried to make a story of this afterwards but it was really a case of 'handbags at 10 paces' rather than any real confrontation. From the point of view of the protest it was not useful and in at least some cases just provided the media with the story they were looking for and seeking to provoke.

We were lucky with the weather and what had threatened to be a dull and overcast day turned out to be fine sunshine and one of those pleasant warm evenings you sometimes get in early May. So the crowd was in high spirits as we set off. There was chanting ('whose streets, our streets' 'Our passion for freedom is bigger than their prisons'), drumming and the sound of 1200 whistles that had been donated by a supporter! There was also a guy out front; his suit festooned with fake dollar bills playing traditional tunes on a tin whistle using a megaphone for amplification. We might not have called it a carnival but it certainly felt like one.

Pic: Rear of march forming up on O'Connell street: From by Noise Bloc

The streets were quite deserted but as much of our route lay through residential areas many of the people came out to watch us pass. Here were these hordes that they were told would 'burn Dublin to the ground'. While a very few heckled far more came into their gardens and exchanged banter with the marchers. Some allowed women to use their toilets and a quite a few even joined us.

Later the cops were to claim that we had somehow tricked them by changing our route at the last moment. It is likely they though we would either take King street or the North Circular road but we knew they had a blocking position prepared at Hanlons corner and had no intention of walking into this. As we progressed rumors swept the march that 'someone had seen the cops massing just around the corner' but every time cyclists went ahead to check they found the road ahead empty.

Those who had already taken part in the rest of the day's events had probably marched 10 or 14k before we even set out on the 9k march to Farmleigh. For those unfamiliar with Dublin Farmleigh house is situation at the back of the world's largest enclosed park, the Phoenix park that has an 11km wall enclosing it. The whole park was sealed off and two lines of fences and a heliport had been built inside it, by the Ashtown gate. Additional fences topped with razor wire had been built around Farmleigh itself and many of the roads leading to the park were closed off.

As we marched up the New Cabra road we went through a dip over one of the railway bridges. Looking back as the front of the march came out of this dip I could see the road behind densely packed with people for a couple of 100 meters. Perhaps half had already dropped out but a good 3,000 were still marching on.

Pic: Front of march on the New Cabra Road. From by Circus Crew

Turning from the New Cabra road onto the Navan road would be the big test of the crowd's discipline. Here there was a McDonalds with only a very thin line of uniformed Gardai and a series of huge glass fronted car showrooms, all but the Mercedes one unguarded. It had been agreed that there would be no property damage on the march, this would test that resolve and perhaps give the state the excuse to intervene. But the discipline held and we all marched past.

The Navan road is a long and wide straight road lined with houses, schools and a library. To the left side street after side street runs down to the wall of the Phoenix park, each was guarded by a small number of uniformed officers. Given that there were thousands on duty they probably hoped we would be tempted to try one of these narrow streets where we would have been trapped against the wall of the park. We marched on; already well within their red zone.

From our point of view the safest point for them to stop us would be the Ashtown roundabout. Here we would be less than 100m from the park and only about 200m from the heliport they had built to ferry the EU leaders in and out. After this point we would have to march on narrow country lane ways with the high wall of the park on one side. If the road was unblocked that is what we would have done but it would have taken us out of sight into an area that we could easily be bottled up in.

Around 1km from the roundabout we stopped to take a break and allow stragglers catch up with the march. People on bicycles reported that very large numbers of Gardai seemed to be forming up at the Ashtown gate but that the cyclists were being prevented from getting closer by plain clothes secret police. At this stage it also became clear that the black bloc wanted to advance to the police lines and at least mount a token attempt to push through them.

Black bloc in Dublin
Pic: Black bloc forms up facing police lines on the Navan road. From by Chekov

After a 20 minute break we set off. Ahead a solid line of bright yellow could be seen, the fluorescent vests of a triple line of cops stretching across the roundabout entrance. If we were confident that no break though would be attempted we would have marched right up to that line before halting. As we reckoned one would be attempted we halted at the last junction onto the Navan road, a little over 100m from the roundabout.

Two people on megaphones announced to the crowd that the DGN march was halting here and asked them to step to one side so that anyone who wanted to go right up to the police line could pass through. A 50 strong black bloc passed through with a banner reading 'Resist the Europe of capital' and advanced up the road with the vast majority of the crowd either following them up or going up ahead of them.

They stopped just short of the police line and then with arms linked advanced into the police line, trying to push through. After a minute or so it started to break and with a command the uniformed Gardai retreated to be replaced by riot police. Journalists behind the front line reported seeing rank after rank of riot police lining the road that turned down to the Navan gate. Behind the riot police came the water cannon and this proceeded to start blasting the crowd.

Pic: Pushing against the police line (top). From by Chekov

At the point the Gardai plan started to come apart. They probably hoped to provoke a violent response from the crowd in order to 'justify' the millions the government had spent on their security operation. Unfortunately for them they were a little more creative than this. The Gardai were greeted with a range of bizarre sights. Some protesters danced in the water jets in front of the massed riot police. One man with a large pot he had been using as drum caught the spray and threw it back at the riot police. A woman with goggles and a snorkel danced up and down in front of police lines. And a couple with umbrellas broke into 'singing in the rain'.

Time for some escalation. A riot cop stepped through the lines and struck a man dancing in front of the shields three times. The women with the goggles and snorkel received similar treatment. The water cannon switched to high pressure and was used to blow journalists overlooking the scene from a high granite wall off the wall, preventing any embarrassing pictures from that excellent vantage point. One cameraman was knocked out as he hit the ground 2m below but regained consciousness after a few minutes. The SKY News live camera feed was also knocked out by this attack.

Riot cop hits EU summit protester
Pic: Riot cop (under red arrow) hits dancing man (under second red arrow) for the third time: From by Chekov

Water cannon in Dublin for Mayday
Pic: The view from the wall seconds before journalists are blasted off it by the watercannon. From by Chekov

A few plastic bottles and flags were thrown at the police line and one heroic individual managed to jump onto the window grill of the water cannon but still the Gardai lacked the response they badly needed. Things were not going to plan. They advanced on the crowd, batoning more people and pushing people along with their shields. An indymedia reporter was hit in the chest by the water cannon jet and temporally knocked unconscious. Protesters were knocked over by the water cannon and suffered broken bones as they were slammed into the ground. People were grabbed at random out of the crowd and arrested.

Pic: Camera man after being knocked off wal by water cannon (the can's were not his!). From by Chekov

In the meantime the DGN banners back at the junction had turned around to be facing back into town. We did not want a rout to develop as people could be injured and intended to lead a slow retreat back into the city centre. Each time we saw the water cannon advance 20 or so meters we moved the banner 20 or so meters down the road. People began retreating back to the banners from the front line but with the exception of one 'revolutionary party' that had already left the scene almost everyone else halted behind the banners, anxious that no one should be left behind.

Pic: Retreat prepared, the bright light in the centre is the lights on the water cannon. From by Circus Crew

After what felt like a long time the long slow march back into the city centre started. The water cannon and riot police were repeatedly attacking the back of the march but each time a rout looked likely people used the megaphones to ask people not to run but to walk slowly. This worked and we managed to stay together as a block. At the back people had formed a line to stop the riot police penetrating the line and there were more arrests here as the riot police batoned people, again trying to provoke a panic.

Every side street we now passed was lined with rank after rank of riot police. It may have been intimidating but they failed to break our spirit and we marched together as a bloc, stopping from time to time to allow the stragglers to catch up. After a while the riot police broke contact with our back, probably because it was tiring moving around in all their protective gear.

Throughout the march and indeed the weekend many, many cops disguised as demonstrators were spotted amongst us. Some were easy to spot as they wore a tiny black earpiece in one ear. Some seemed to be trying to stir up trouble and just after we had broken contact with the riot police two of these characters near the front of the crowd started shouting that we should stop and turn to face the cops. They were quickly surrounded by people chanting 'where's your number?' and cleared off. We marched on soon leaving the massed ranks of cops behind as we turned onto the New Cabra road.

Overhead as we marched back down the New Cabra road the police helicopter circled shining its spotlight into the crowd. Here it is reported that a middle aged man with a strong Wicklow accent and one of the giveaway black earpieces appeared from nowhere and asked what was planned when we got back into town. 'Were we going to riot?' This character was ignored and soon got bored and drifted off.

On the way back we stopped briefly outside Mountjoy prison whose entrance was lined with ranks of cops. We knew that at least one of our comrades was inside and chants rang out in the hope she might hear them. We marched onto Dorset street and on to O'Connell street where we had planned to disperse.

Pic: Part of the march on the way to Phibsboro. From by Circus Crew

On the way up many of the reporters wanted to know why we were going up the Navan road rather than heading for one of the closer park gates. There were many reasons for this, chief amongst them that this was likely to be the closest point we would get to Farmleigh (around 1.5km as the crow flies, 3km by road). But another was that a heliport had been built just inside the gate for ferrying the EU dignitaries to and from the ceremony.

As the riot squad were deployed in Ashtown and the flashing lights of the water cannon came forward out of the dusk I looked to the right. From the heliport a string of large passenger helicopters were taking off. I don't know if they heard us 'bring the noise' but whichever of the 25 EU leaders were in those helicopters could look out their window to the left and from the commotion below see that it is true to say that "we are everywhere".

The government had tried to terrify the population of the city in advance of the march, both to make them hostile to the protesters and to scare people who were thinking of joining in. Despite this thousands did turn out on the march. The Gardai attacked the crowd with batons and water cannons, injuring some and arresting around 29 but they failed to panic us and we marched together back into town. The government showed it is willing to suspend civil liberties in order to suppress protest. We showed that we will resist them.

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WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


Video from 2004


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