Waterford is bracing itself for weekend-long protests as the Greens stage their annual convention in the city.
Party leader John Gormley is expected to run the gauntlet of not alone stag-hunting enthusiasts and dog breeders, but also anti-coalition campaigners, when he attends the three-day gathering at the Tower Hotel.
Opposed to proposed animal welfare legislation outlawing the Ward Union hunt, the Rise! (Rural Ireland Says Enough!) campaign is headed up by Waterford native Liam Cahill, the journalist and former RTÉ correspondent who now lives in the Co Meath countryside.
He and his cohorts had it hot and heavy with anti-bloodsports lobbyists and ‘fed-up farmers’ (led by South Kilkenny landowner Philip Lynch) on Pat Kenny’s ‘Frontline’ programme on Monday night. Greyhound owners, irate over stringent new regulations affecting the sector, also made their feelings loud and clear.
Mr Cahill, who went to school in Mount Sion, says they’ve support from 16 organisations, including the National Hunt racing industry. Top jockey Ruby Walsh fears the new bill is a precursor to banning fox-hunting, shooting, angling and point-to-point racing and “has to be stopped before it gathers momentum.”
Mr Gormley retained his cabinet seat on Tuesday despite intense speculation that he’d be making way in accordance with a rotation pact – instead securing an extra junior minister: namely, his would-be replacement Ciarán Cuffe. The deal with Taoiseach with Brian Cowen is expected to tie the Greens into coalition for the foreseeable future.
The embattled Environment Minister is already facing the embarrassment of having Earth Hour (when people are being urged to switch off lights) coincide with his leader’s speech, both beginning at 8.30 on Saturday evening.
He was forced to admit that he wouldn’t be asking people to turn off or ‘pool’ their TV sets (as he did last year), but to ‘watch in the dark’ as he delivers his state-of-the-nation/party speech.
Borris-based Carlow-Kilkenny TD Mary White will address delegates directly before the lights go out. The party’s deputy leader, appointed Minister of State for Equality and Integration this week, was born in Wicklow but went to boarding school at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford.
The keynote speaker will be Jamie Drummond, co-founder (with Bono) and executive director of ONE International.
The ‘action’ will start outside. At 2pm on Saturday the country’s main trade union, Unite, which represented workers at Waterford Crystal, is to lead a protest with the City Trades Council.
The demo will give voice to people’s fury over the Greens’ support of measures “that are having a devastating impact on the city”, says Unite Regional Organiser Walter Cullen, with people seeing “their pensions stolen, their public services torn away and their futures mortgaged by this government.”
He added: “John Gormley talks about employment but does nothing to create or sustain jobs in Waterford or the rest of the country. Our Crystal manufacturing was allowed to be offshored to other parts of the world and this government sat on its hands.”
The Waterford branch of the People Before Profit Alliance will join the protest at 2.30 – their ranks comprising the unemployed, disgruntled workers, anti-water charges campaigners, fishermen, health service campaigners and many more, all angry at the Fianna Fáil-led coalition’s “incompetence and vicious right-wing ideology.” They’ve accused the Greens of “selling their souls completely”, warning that “the electorate will wipe them out at the next election.”
Also, a number of community development activists in Waterford – both members of voluntary boards of management and staff – are holding a ‘fringe conference’ of their own in the Edmund Rice Youth & Community Multiplex, Manor Street on Saturday from 1.30 to 3pm.
Their meeting, which will be hosted and opened by Mayor John Halligan, will be preceded by another protest outside the Tower Hotel at 11am.
John Gormley says: “We have chosen Waterford for so many reasons: the wonderful team in the Waterford Greens, the environmental initiatives and natural resources of the area, the family friendly attitude across the county and so much more. It promises to be a wonderful weekend of discussion, debate and stimulating speakers, and all in the company of good friends.”