Labour Ministers React to Protest Scenes in Galway
Crowds of placard-waving campaigners used a coffin draped in the Irish flag as a battering ram and broke through security lines to picket the Bailey Allen building at NUI Galway, where the coalition party was holding its annual party meeting.
There were reports of gardaí using pepper spray to hold the back the crowd, who chanted “They say cut back, we say fight back.” The chants were in reference to a widespread belief that the party has betrayed voters and is targeting ordinary citizens and making them accountable for private debt.
They called politicians traitors, shouted “shame” and accused Labour of failing to represent working men and women.
“I’m here because I want to fight for my future,” said a young protester. “I want to be able to go to college, but Eamon Gilmore won’t let that happen.”
“If they disagree with us, that’s their democratic right,” Social Protection Minister Joan Burton added.
“If they wish to protest, that’s their democratic right, but they have no democratic right to basically stop another political party, committed to democracy, to go about its business.”
“So I must say I think it’s a great pity that they should have behaved in the way they have.”
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore later condemned the protesters who clashed with gardaí at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Galway.
He argued the Government acts only in the public interest – just hours after a violent protest disrupted his party’s national conference.
In his keynote speech at the party’s conference, he said the Government had pulled the economy back from the brink and prevented Ireland from becoming a “banana republic”.
Minister Gilmore also called on the Dáil deputies who were involved in the march to condemn those who acted violently.
“A minority acted violently, I condemn that,” said Minister Gilmore.
“I think that the organisers of the protest, if they haven’t already done so, should also condemn it.
“I think in particular the Dáil deputies, who were part of the organisation of the protest, I think that they should condemn the violent activity that took place here yesterday and I think that they should dissociate themselves from it.”
He singled out his Labour colleagues Education Minister Ruairí Quinn, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.
The Tánaiste also said the Government’s main priorities in getting Ireland’s faltering economy back on track included securing investment, boosting the domestic economy and helping people with distressed mortgages.
A referendum on whether Ireland will ratify the fiscal compact will be held on May 31.
If passed, Ireland will sign off on the treaty, which will see stricter budgetary rules in place from Europe, penalties for member states that break them and access to emergency funds.
A 2,000-strong crowd had marched from Galway’s Eyre Square to the university campus, where some 800 Labour delegates listened to TDs debating motions on education and jobs.
Campaigners included those from the anti-household charge movement, septic tank and turf cutter protesters.
One man was detained, but released shortly afterwards following reported appeals from People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett.