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Feeble Irish protests fail to measure up to a Greek tragedy

Mary Fitzgerald - Irish Times

IT WAS just another family on just another late afternoon stroll in Dublin city centre.

As they passed Government Buildings, the father shepherding his children paused briefly and looked through the wrought iron gates to the windows blazing with light in the gloom of dusk.

Behind the elegant facade of Government Buildings the Cabinet was sitting for an emergency meeting during which it would sign off on a rescue package that will determine much in the lives of these oblivious youngsters. Perhaps mindful of this, the father summoned a wry smile.

“We live in the Republic of IMF now,” he said to his young charges, before they hurried off in the cold.

It was a touching moment during what felt like a strangely anti-climactic day on Merrion Street. For all the talk of history being made, many of the foreign reporters camped outside griped that there was little sense of occasion. Apart from one man who was arrested after he attempted to block the car ferrying Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin to the meeting, and some determined Shell to Sea protesters who kept annoying broadcasters by holding up banners whenever they saw a camera in range, there was little to report.

More gardaí arrived, lining up in front of the gates. There was a brief spark of interest from photographers when two twenty-something men began arranging candles to spell out 1916-2010 on the pavement. “This is what it has come to,” said one, as he lit another tea light and placed it in a plastic pint glass. “We felt we should mark it.”

Later on, a small knot of people waving Sinn Féin banners and the Tricolour gathered. One held up a poster with the word “Shame” scrawled across it. Every so often someone belted out a few hoarse verses of A Nation Once Again or shouted “IMF Out” and “Cowen Out”.

It was all rather underwhelming for the man from German tabloid Bild, who had spent the previous days touring ghost estates in Leitrim and Dublin. The number of houses lying empty across the country had shocked him, but what he found puzzling was the lack of palpable anger. There were no mass protests, no outward signs of rage, nothing like the unrest he had reported on in Greece earlier this year. One cameraman joked that everyone was too busy watching the X-Factor.

Later, a Sky News anchor spoke of anger on the streets of Dublin. Carefully edited images of the small number of demonstrators outside Government Buildings may have given that impression. But in truth, the little heat and noise generated by the protesters would probably not even have carried as far as the Merrion Hotel across the street, where IMF mandarins rest in between their work of drawing up the country’s future.