I must admit I find it curious that the one contemporary series of marches that did contribute to a significant political U-turn in recent history were all sourced to water charges (pun fully intended).
The ham-fisted and astoundingly arrogant approach taken by the Fine Gael-led government to introduce a charge which I suspect we’ll ultimately end up paying on a non-Irish Water letter-headed bill anyway, mobilised a significant constituency of citizens.
The government deserved the bloody nose they ended up receiving more so for the manner in which they attempted to implement the charge, as opposed to the notion of a charge itself, in my view.
New pipes and pumping stations, along with the maintenance of systems, cannot operate on fairy dust and we will ultimately pay for such facilities one way or the other – and if you live in the countryside, well you’re well accustomed to paying for your water anyway.
No issue in recent history has more vividly revealed the urban/rural divide than water charges, and the dearth of agricultural/agri-business-related press releases from the parties of the left since the general election reveals where such parties most thickly spread their butter.
But this is, in reality, a reflection of how little general discussion there is in most urban centres about the significance of agriculture to the economy, and what talk there may be tends to linger on cow farting emissions and the financial supports farmers receive from Europe.
The left’s general disinterest in farming is matched by the centre and centre-right’s abdication of its responsibilities regarding the provision of social/Council housing for near on 30 years. Labour, far too late in the lifetime of the last government in an attempt to shore up even a few seats, began to wax lyrically about the delivery of the most new school builds in any Dáil term, but their record on the social housing front was lamentable.
And it’s no coincidence that their shifting position on water charges saw them lose the trust of many voters who may need a few elections yet to plump a preference their way again – and, in some cases, are lost to Labour permanently.
Marches, by their very nature, tend to be social echo chambers. Everyone treading the tarmac moreorless agrees with everything that’s been said by the march organisers and speakers. Most of those attending marches would rather gouge their own eyes out than sit through a party leader’s speech at an Ard Fheis beamed into the living room, and most would never be “caught dead” at such a gathering: an echo chamber for everything they disagree with.
Just try speaking against the debate motion (so to speak) in front a crowd who’ve marched in support of that one and the same issue: it’s just not done and with good reason, if one has any regard for one’s well-being.
One issue I have already marched on and will again is the need to make the N24 Piltown/Fiddown Bypass safer.
Of course, I still have to report on the issue impartially and do my utmost to give either side of the debate their say in print (the rules are altogether more stringent on air), regardless of my own, long-held personal conviction when it comes to this stretch of road.
The first ‘Go Slow’ march on the bypass was held on Saturday, April 23rd, and the actions of frustrated locals won praise from two French film-makers, now resident in Clare.
Said Robert Duggan of the Piltown/Fiddown Bypass Action Group: “Despite being
delayed by our protest, they parked up their car and walked with us because they understood the responsibility in a democracy for quiet people to stand up and speak the truth, and they were proud to see Irish people doing that.”
Robert added: “We’re not really known for this, when you consider how relatively passive the vast majority have been when it comes to recent crises, and (the French couple) were very vocal in their support for what we’re trying to do here, what we’re committed to following through on when it comes to the bypass…
“We seemed, in the view of our French visitors, to encapsulate the essence of ‘Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité’, in terms of embracing the responsibility that comes with citizenship. And being a citizen involves responsibility; it’s something the French have in their social consciousness in a widespread sense: we probably need to learn that.”
Now the French have traditionally held strikes in a number that occasionally dwarfs their preponderance of public holidays and penchant for early retirement, and while downing tools at the drop of every hat doesn’t strike me as the way to go, there’s a lot to be said for consistent social engagement.
Just look at the tough time Republican Congressmen/women are receiving at present from angry constituents at Town Hall meetings across America and the ensuing intransigence that this has contributed to within a chaotic, Fawlty Towers-like White House.
And what else have Americans been doing in historically high numbers since Donald Trump’s election? Marching. People are taking to their feet and finding a voice. And if enough of us do that on this side of the Atlantic, then we can actually make things happen.
So let’s not decommission marching, even if it’s not nearly as effective as it ought to be. Because if we do, then the people we elect might just see that as another reason to disregard us ‘little folk’. So keep them on their toes. Keep marching!