Tonight about 700 people gathering outside the Department of Justice and Equality in an anti-repression demonstration. The demonstration was called in response to ongoing arrests of adults and children involved in the anti water tax movement.
Amongst those speaking at the event was Jason Lester a 16 year old boy arrested on Tuesday morning by ten detectives, nine in plain clothes. The police arrested him in his bedroom after he was woken up. “Next thing I new they where standing in my bedroom and arresting me under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.”
Jason’s arrest was one of 17 so far this week which on Wednesday also included a 14 year old boy. The arrests follow a familiar pattern at this stage where large numbers of police arrive at the break of dawn at peoples houses in the working class community of Tallaght, usually minimum of six police officers per arrest. People are put into cells, stripped of shoes, belts and personal possessions, fingerprinted and interrogated for several hours and then released without charge.
The arrests focus on an incident in Jobstown last November when a car driving Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Tánaiste Joan Burton, was prevented from moving for up to three hours by people sitting in front of it. They were demonstrating against the introduction of a water tax, part of ongoing state policies resulting from the shifting of private speculation debt on to public accounts.
A decision was made to build a case of false imprisonment of the Minister, by an investigation team resourced to a degree one would normally associate with high level criminality such as murders or drug trafficking. Its commonly understood within the wider public and the broad anti-water tax movement that the police operation is motivated not with a desire to convict anyone with false imprisonment of the government minister. That itself is a ludicrous proposition given that footage available on-line shows that her car was surrounded by police at pretty much the whole time.
An understanding of policing in Ireland suggests that the motivations are probably muddy. In part they probably do come from a desire to put manners on people involved in embarrassing and annoying a senior government minister. And if you can simultaneously sling enough hyperbolic mud at a movement you might create division and inoculate others from getting involved. And whilst the history of Irish policing ‘crisis’ show that the force is wide open to political interference, a more mundane reality is that police forces engage in political repression for the same reasons a dog licks its own balls. Because its coded into its DNA. For a substantive look at political policing in Ireland check out this report from the Garda Research Institute. But before looking at policing its worth looking at the movement from which those arrest come from.
The anti water tax movement itself is the largest and most sustained public reaction to years of cuts, job losses, growing poverty and inequality. A sense of the importance and social power of the movement is illustrated by the fact that the political party polling highest at present, Sinn Fein, changed its own position in relation to Irish Water and the proposed introduction of water charges. Other left organisations such as the Socialist Party/Austerity Alternative Alliance and Socialist Worker Party/People Before Profits and trade unions and activists are involved under a broad Right 2 Water banner.
However the wider movement itself is not under the control of any of these organisations. To be part of it you simply just have to not pay. It is made up of an increasingly networked affiliation of community groupings communicating with each other. In this way groups from across the country, and within the capital, are in regular contact with each other to organise solidarity actions such preventing meter installations or support events like the anti-repression demo.
It is within this context that the arrests this week is perhaps most usefully understood. The Irish government has failed spectacularly at each and every step of trying to create Irish Water as a legitimate social policy. It has bounced between an attitude of arrogance and disdain and open fear as deadlines for registration get pushed back and proposals changed so many times that most of us probably forget what the initial Irish Water proposal was. The entire process has only further fuelled disillusionment and general disconnect between ordinary people and a form of low-cunning politics that is clumsy, cruel, temperamental and when the shit the fan, fundamentally unjust.
Disillusionments with unjust policies, or indeed political systems, pose no threat or possibility of change when they are limited to small left wing meetings. Nor do individual bodies and families worn weary with the stress of bills and putting food on the table, and having to feed the relentless desires of a banking system to have its pound of flesh so that you have a roof over your head.
It is a profoundly different experience for everyone involved, for governments and participants, when that disillusionment is expressed on our streets. Be that hundreds of thousands of people collectively refusing to sign up, twenty thousand people walking together in the capital or twenty or thirty people on their own street stopping water meters going in in the first place.
Each one of these things is an active and living expression of solidarity and care. The very things most visibly absent in the logic of ‘austerity’.
From the perspective of people engaging in this movement, these are beautiful and empowering things. The reality of becoming engaged with our neighbours in trying to shape our world outside the ritual of voting is a transforming experience. We become political and social actors ourselves. And we do it again and again. Exploring that further is another piece of writing, but suffice to say that movements of this size are not just about changing policies or getting better governments in the future at the next election. For thousands of people involved it is a real change in the immediate way we understand what politics is and what it can be.
From the perspective of a government that sees their respective party support falling, and looking across Europe and seeing that peoples movements are a real game changer, public engagement in social solidarity is a terribly bad idea. And perhaps for a moment we can indulge and make evident the basis of this fear. A lot of TD’s in Labour and Fine Gael are going to lose their jobs. We can be generous enough to recognise that it is scary to look forward to the future with that fear. We know it all too well. So at an individual level there is perhaps a case to be made that our own humanity is served to recognise that with empathy. But equally their job losses will be a result of a loyalty to organisations that preside over growing poverty and inequality. So perhaps this is small justice in action.
Though the established order of things is not about individual TD’s. The established order of things is about the maintenance of a captured state. And the maintenance of the established order is primarily achieved by having the power to defined what gets talked about and what doesn’t.
Arresting Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy first thing on a Monday morning was clearly motivated by a desire sought to shape a media narrative of the week. The headline news at 7am on Monday Morning Ireland, an RTE radio show that sets the news agenda for the day, was about the €3,500,000,000 hidden away by rich Irish people in Swiss accounts of HBSC banks. By 8am the headline was the arrest of Paul Murphy and three others and all other media outlets pursued. Now the arrests most likely were not timed to knock out the Irish end of the global HBSC tax evasion story.
Nonetheless those folks with €3,500,000,000 stashed away enjoy very much the established order of things. Where we see social solidarity and positive actions to make justice and equality central to how our society works, they see a mob. When we challenge the legitimacy of certain policies or orthodoxies, small but powerful interests know that their ability to shape the state to suit themselves is under threat.
And it that sense the demonisation of the broad anti-water tax movement by Denis O Brien press is just part of the historical game played between owners and the owned. The fact that Michael Geoghegan, the former CEO of HBSC at the time, was appointed chair of the NAMA advisory board is a mere footnote in the weeks news. There has been no public debate around precisely who in Ireland defrauded millions from our public services.
It remains to be seen if the wider public in Ireland will be swayed away from non payment by the recent police actions. And when Paul Murphy says he would love to see his day in court so would many of us. Its unlikely to happen. One can only imagine how damaging it would be for Labour and Fine Gael facing electoral meltdown to have the Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton cross examined in the courts. I doubt very much whether the established order of things will have an appetite for that.
I’ll leave the last words to Jason