Scuffles on Pearse street as Garda attack Occupy Dame St march in Dublin

Over 150 people gathered at the Central Bank last night in the aftermath of the eviction of Occupy Dame Street (ODS). They then marched to Pearse street Garda station to demand the return of confiscated property but for unknown reasons the Garda prevented them for reaching the station, knocking many to the ground while doing so. Following on from the violence used during the 4am eviction that morning this represents a radical departure from the 'softly-softly' policing that has characterized the interactions of the state with ODS to date.

 

 

The camp at the Central Bank at Dame street had been evicted by a force of 100 Garda in the early morning without warning. Mechanical lifters had been used to destroy the tents, structures and pallet fences and the clothes, laptops, cameras. minute books and other equipment of the camp were all confiscated and not returned. One woman claimed that while she was being held in the police station money was removed from her wallet and her bus pass crumpled up. Others said that during the eviction they were punched, had their hands stamped on and their arms twisted. All of this would be typical enough behavior of police in Ireland. When ODSers had tried to erect a single tent at lunchtime they were thrown to the ground and the Garda also confiscated placards and, rather bizarrely, even an Irish tricolor. [Read a more detailed account of the eviction]

All this meant that by the time of the advertised general assembly people were already quite wound up. There had been some sort of minor altercation with one of the reactionary shop keepers whose premises border the square just before the assembly. A group of 10 or so people, some waving tricolors were shouting 'traitor' at him outside his shop as he stood with five or so Garda. A couple of the shop keepers on the square have been very vocal on the radio demanding the removal of the camp for supposedly damaging their business which was presumably the cause for the angry protest.

The Garda presence on the square reversed the ratio of last nights eviction with perhaps 10 Garda watching 160 people take part in the assembly. There haven't been regular General Assemblies at Dame Street since the start of December and quite a few of the ones before that were quite dysfunctional as decision making spaces due to people not following or abusing procedure. With everyone so wound up there was little real discussion at last nights assembly, more a string of angry speeches and very rapid 'proposal' and 'consensus' without real discussion.

The decisions to re-occupy the Plaza and to march on Pearse street police station was made more by acclaim then consensus but probably in the circumstances this was almost unavoidable. There was little organisation to the march, they simply took to the streets and headed towards Pearse street chanting 'All day, all night, Occupy Dame street,' "we are the 99%' and 'Whose Streets, Our Streets'. There was a brief spontaneous sit-down on Westmoreland street just before the march turned onto Townsend street.

Strange Garda tactics
As the march got near Pearse street Garda station it became clear that the Garda were attempting to form a line across the road between the march and the station to prevent people reaching it. This was a very curious decision for a couple of reasons. Firstly because demonstrations right at the door of Pearse street Garda station and not at all uncommon, I've been on many and in fact once was under arrest inside the station while one demanding my (and others) release was going on outside. Secondly because the roads there are very wide and it was impossible for the dozen or so Garda initially present to form a solid line.

The attempt to stop the march only succeeded in angering people and as the Garda called for re-enforcements over the radio many people started simply walking through the gaps in their line. As more Garda arrived and tried to grab these people that resulted in scattered scuffles during one of which a Guard wearing a helmet went for two young women shouting slogans by the corner of the station. He banged the head of one of them, a 15 year old, off a wall and kicked another in the shins. As this was seen by a number of people this resulted in more people running over to that spot to help the women.

The Garda retreated a bit and were then ordered to form a line with their arms linked before being told to charge into the crowd milling around at the corner of the station. Because there were a line of bike stands behind the crowd this resulted in many people being knocked over as the solid line of police ran into them and pushed them back over the parked bikes. This included three members of a TV crew who were shooting footage for the BBC. At least one person received a head injury around this point and an ambulance was called for him.

This was a particularly senseless action that only served to make the crowd angry. I say particularly senseless because the now solid line of 30-40 police only reached across 1/3 of the way across the wide footpath and multi-lane road. A number of people simply walked around the end of that line and started to protest at the police station doors.

The inspector in charge approached some of the ODS people he recognised and now tried to make a big deal out of appearing reasonable. He claimed he'd arrange to allow people into the station in an hour to complete the forms needed to reclaim their property if the crowd dispersed now. A general assembly was called to discuss this offer and this was the start of a period of negotiation and then discussion at the assembly in front of the solid line of Garda that continued to block 1/3 of the street.  The slide show at the end of this report shows many of the moments described above, the video below will also give you a good idea of the sequence of events.

What was up?
It's quite difficult to understand the purpose of last nights policing in any other way then intended to send a 'the gloves are now off' message to Occupy Dame Street. One of the long running political problems with the camp was that because of the inexperience of many involved some presumed that police oppression could be avoided by being friendly to whatever individual cops were policing the area. The Garda were happy enough to play along with this, in particular because it would have certainly allowed them to gather intelligence from such chats.

In particular Shell to Sea campaigners who visited the camp found this attitude a little hard to fathom given their experience of being brutalized by Garda on a regular basis. Compared to what has been seen in Erris last nights police violence was minor, as far as I'm aware no batons were used for instance. But it did demonstrate that while individual Garda may be part of the 99% as a body they follow the orders of the 1% and no amounts of friendly chats will change that. Dublin is no different from Rossport in that context, except perhaps that in the city center in Dublin there will always also be a large audience of passers by.

The other decision made last night was to reoccupy the plaza but no plan was made as to how that might happen. With the Garda now actively working to prevent protest in the square, right down to the confiscation of flags & banners whenever they outnumber protesters sufficiently, it seems clear this could only happen with the involvement of considerable numbers of people. That would almost certainly require the core group of now ex-campers to reverse the veto deployed in November which effectively ruled out reaching out to potential allies, in particular the rank & file union members, on an equal basis. Short of mobilizing those sort of numbers all we will probably see are repeats of the sort of scuffling we saw last night until the Garda succeed in wearing people down. 

WORDS & IMAGES: Andrew Flood

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