Monday, March 31, 2008

Health Service Protest

I went into the health service protest on Saturday. Initially as I wandered around Parnell Square I was concerned that it seemed to be the same regular protesters that you see out at each and every protest in Dublin. I mean the groups who have turned Saturday protests into their regular social outing. They probably think they are fighting some good fight or other but really they just tire the public so now no one notices a march or two passing in between the buses. In fact one group tried to upstage the main protest by staging their own march up to Parnell Square and to the front of the main protest. I'm sure they felt they were expressing solidarity but it seemed like attention seeking to me. A Garda I was talking to at the time was surprised to see them marching but insisted that they would be rewarded for showing up late by being put to the back of the march. That was the last I saw of their banners.

However despite the semi-pro protesters getting there early once the start time of the march got closer the crowd built up to become a gathering of general people, old and young, male and female. Most of the people who took part in the march looked like they were off on a Saturday outing to the park or to the shops. These are people who in previous years would have been interviewed saying how they thought Bertie was a nice decent Dublin lad, doing his best for the country and he'd get things right in the end. Now they were marching down O'Connell Street calling for change. Many seemed to have brought their own placards. This wasn't a group of people who had a few minutes to spare and decided to join in for something to do. They were angry and wanted their voices heard. If they are not heard then they should be heard at the next election.

I doubt the organisers got their predicted 70,000 marchers but there were 1000s. When the march got going the pedestrians lining the route of the march did seem interested and some even had their own posters on display. Even passing tourists stopped to take photographs and one American woman I spoke had heard about and understood the reasons for the march.

At the end there were speeches on a stage on Molesworth Street. In general these were not that interesting, mostly being delivered by high profile people from the campaign or the trade unions. I thought the organisers could have done more to highlight individual patient cases. Politicians are not afraid of Union spokespeople or medical professors telling the public about how more funds are needed for their members or how they are going to this international conferences. Bertie knows the general public don't relate directly with those speakers. They are however afraid of cancer patients with microphones or a widowers with an audience, any of us could become one of them while the current government examines it's profit and loss seats.

In the end I doubt the march will achieve anything directly or in the short term. Harney and Ahern know they are in too deep now and the change people want will have to come from the top down. If change does come it will be because junior members of the Dail will begin to feel their seats getting shaky beneath them and they will start to put pressure on those above them for new faces at the top.

My photos from the march are up on Flickr.

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