At least 10,000 join protest march against Irish water charge

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 10, 2014 9:11 AM

DUBLIN (Reuters) - At least 10,000 people marched on the Irish parliament on Wednesday in a third day of mass protests against new water charges that have spurred the biggest opposition movement since the country's financial crisis erupted in 2008.

Ireland is expected to be Europe's fastest-growing economy this year after its exit from an international bailout in 2013, but the water issue has touched a raw nerve in a public wearied by years of austerity and frustrated by an uneven recovery.

The government plans to levy direct charges on households to use water for the first time next year, in the final piece of a 30 billion euro ($37.5 billion) austerity drive.

People were bussed into Dublin from all round the country. Waving Irish flags and banners that read "Enough is enough!" and "We won't pay", they filled the streets near parliament to demand a change of policy.

"People have had enough of taking loads of crap quietly and getting on with it," said community worker Rione Kilcullen, 45, who took the day off and traveled three hours by bus from the western county of Mayo with her partner and relatives.

"We took the day off work because it doesn't happen very often, there isn't enough protest," she said.

With families worried about water bills running into hundreds of euros, the government last month reduced the levels it plans to charge consumers and promised to keep the low rates until 2019 in a bid to defuse the opposition.

However, the protests have continued in a country which hitherto, unlike Greece, had offered little resistance to the program of painful spending cuts and tax hikes.

The protests have undermined plans to cut income tax from next month that the government hoped would boost its 2016 re-election hopes.

Instead, Prime Minister Enda Kenny's ruling Fine Gael party slumped into third place in a recent opinion poll as its popularity collapsed to an 11-year low.

"We sucked up everything they've thrown at us for six years but water is a human right," said Marian Neff from Cork, adding she had voted for the government three years ago but would not do so again.

"We believed in this government, they've turned around the country supposedly, but water is a basic need. This (protest) will continue until they come to their senses."

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Gareth Jones)