By yesterday afternoon, the Occupy Dame Streetprotest had become a shadow of its former self. The protest which originally had four demands – that the IMF pack their bags and leave; that the bank bailout be stopped and reversed; that Irish oil and gas assets not be sold to private interests and and that there be “real participatory democracy” – had expanded to include grievances against fracking in Leitrim and the new €100 household charge. The tents were mostly gone and there were about 10 more permanent structures, constructed with wooden frames and sheathed in tarpaulin and plastic. The main structure on the site which doubles as a media hut to where every foreign TV crew traipsed was bereft of media. A few foreign students shepherded by what looked like a teacher were milling around taking photographs. Paths had been cleared through the encampment to two side gates to the Central Bank of Ireland whose brutalistic architecture towers above the plaza where the Occupy Dame Street protest has encamped since last October 2011.
The site was dismantled by Gardai overnight, ostensibly for health and safety reasons ahead of the St Patrick’s Day Festival in a fortnight’s time – there was certainly an abundance of wood pallets at the encampment yesterday though there were also plenty of signs for fire extinguishers; I think that for many, the health and safety issue will have been a happy coincidence with patience having run out at the protest. Staff at the Central Bank, councillors who wanted the public space returned to the public as well as local traders who blamed the encampment for damage to business might be happy, the occupiers won’t be.
What has the protest achieved? At a time when most of the country is suffering the consequences of the banking collapse, the protest was for many, a welcome manifestation that the injustice wasn’t going unnoticed and there was some low-level fight left in society. Befuddled foreign media who wanted to know whyIrelandwasn’t protesting had a specific place to visit and I can’t help thinking the protest was to a large extent sustained by this interest. The protesters drew attention to the payment of €1.25bn to Anglo bondholders in January 2012 by chaining themselves together outside offices of the Department of Finance, and indeed a memento of that day, the giant cheque to Anglo’s bondholders from the Irish nation, was propped up with breeze blocks outside the media hut yesterday.
The protest also drew attention to the uneven distribution of wealth in society, but the protesters’ claim – “we are the 99%” – grated when 70% of voters had turned out a year ago to democratically elect a new government. The protesters had claimed that 1% of Ireland’s population controlled 20% of its wealth and whist there’s dispute about the provenance of the 20% statistic, no-one disagrees with the claim that there is an uneven distribution of wealth but there is certainly disagreement over what, if anything, could or should be done with uneven wealth, which is after all, a feature of any free society. Has the Occupy Dame Street run its course? The protesters mightn’t think so this morning, and they may attempt another “occupation” later in March, but that is against a background where many think its relevance, in this format at least, has waned.