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1,500 turn out for noisy protest at Budget severity

Ronan McGreevy & Conor Lally - Irish Times

ABOUT 1,500 people demonstrated outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday evening in a noisy protest against the Budget.

The protesters included members of the Shell to Sea campaign, Sinn Féin, the Republican group Éirígí and other left-wing organisations, many of whom spent the whole day outside Leinster House.

MEP Joe Higgins told the assembled crowd yesterday evening that it had been “the most shameful day in the history of the State” because Ireland had become a vassal state for the “financial markets of Europe and the world”.

There was a large presence of gardaí throughout the day, backed up by the Garda helicopter and the Garda Dog Unit. There were just three arrests.

The protests was largely peaceful but turned rowdy when Budget protesters targeted a man they believed to be Independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae.

The man emerged from the barricades outside Leinster House shortly after the Budget speech to a cacophony of insults and cat-calls from protesters who thought he was Mr Healy-Rae.

Sensing he was in danger, two young gardaí escorted him down Kildare Street making themselves also the subject of the crowd’s ire.

The gardaí got jostled and pelted with snowballs. A cameraman who was busy following the ruckus slipped on the thawing ice.

The man was ushered into the Department of Transport offices to loud boos. It was only afterwards, when a photographer looked at his lens camera, that it emerged that it was not the Kerry South TD.

The so-called “Anglo Avenger” Joe McNamara, who famously drove a cement truck into the gates of Leinster House, was arrested yesterday morning when he staged a protest at the same location, this time using a cherry-picker to make his point.

He was followed by Shell to Sea campaigners, who were also a constant fixture outside Government Buildings during the IMF talks.

They have perfected the habit of getting their banners into shot while television reporters are live on air.

“Can we move the banner, they are broadcasting now,” said one supporter to another.

From early afternoon, the soundtrack of the protests was the constant clacking noise of pots and pans being banged by about dozen people who had organised themselves through a Facebook page.

“This is the first day of Eurocolonialism,” said the oldest protester, Jos Bradel (77), while she hit a cooking pot with a hammer.

About 200 Sinn Féin supporters arrived an hour before the Budget, ratcheting up the noise level with drums and a bodhrán with a picture of Bobby Sands on the front. They also lit red flares giving the foreign news crews their best shot of the day.

Drummer Alan Donnelly said their protest included people “lucky enough to have a job”. “We’re the only ones acting like an opposition,” he added.

Like the snow on the pavement, the Sinn Féin supporters had melted away by the time Gerry Adams arrived. He sought out the film crews instead.

He was followed by about 1,000 supporters from Éirígí, along with anarchists, members of the 1 per cent organisation and the Socialist Workers, who all made their way from the Wolfe Tone monument in St Stephen’s Green.

Last night, a group of protesters carried on their protests outside the vacant offices of Anglo-Irish Bank in St Stephen’s Green.