More than 120,000 workers surrounded the Dail, or Irish Parliament, to protest against bail-outs for wealthy bankers, soaring unemployment and the Fianna Fail government’s attempts to force public-sector workers to take a pay cut.
Wielding placards denouncing ‘corporate swindlers’ and ‘banking cartels,’ protesters – including police officers, hospital workers and teachers – closed down the capital for an entire day in what one demonstrator described as ‘a lesson learnt from Iceland.’
Union-organised protests forced the Icelandic government to fall in January and Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) leader David Begg said that the Dublin demonstration was ‘just the first step’ in a similar campaign to bring their own bankers and government to account.
‘There is anger, because everybody knows that this crisis is not our fault, that a business elite has destroyed our economy and has as yet to be made accountable for it,’ Mr Begg told the huge rally at Merrion Square in the heart of Dublin.
And he dismissed Taoiseach Brian Cowan’s assertion that ‘painful’ public-sector cuts were ‘essential’ to deal with the crisis.
‘There is only one action that will correct the damage that has been done and that is to get rid of all those who have committed this economic treason,’ declared Mr Begg.
Mr Cowan has been beseiged by workers’ protests since he was appointed to the top government job after a series of scandals felled previous leader Bertie Ahern last May.
As Saturday’s mass demonstration took over the streets – at one point being led by workers from Waterford Crystal in Cork, where staff have occupied their factory in an attempt to stop job cuts – ICTU president Patricia McKeown addressed the marchers, tearing into the ‘casino capitalism that has brought this country to its knees.
‘An economy cannot be built on shady financial deals, privatisation of public services and the ever insatiable greed of the very, very wealthy,’ she insisted.
‘But we face a government which wants the workers who built the economy to now sacrifice while it protects and bankrolls those who wrecked it. We are not prepared to live in that type of society,’ Ms McKeown declared.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams stressed that Irish workers were not simply opposing the government, but were making a positive stand ‘in defence of jobs and public services. Ard Fheis salutes and supports these efforts,’ he told his party’s annual conference.
Trade Unions Against the European Union Constitution spokesman Brian Denny also praised the demonstrators for resisting the Irish government’s ‘attempts to make them pay for the crisis.
‘It’s not the workers, but the obsession with privatisation enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty that the Irish government supports that has helped cause the crisis,’ he emphasised.