In Deep Water

A new book by Michael Brennan on the collapse of water charges reveals the challenges that Gardaí faced when policing water charge protests in 2014 – including the Jobstown protest – and a night when a garda station in Dublin found itself under siege. The following is an extract.

“The arrest of three water protesters at an event attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Santry in Dublin led to a Northside garda station being surrounded. There were unruly scenes outside Coolock Garda Station, where the arrested protestors were being held on the night of November 5 2014.

From 7 p.m. onwards, there were hundreds of protesters outnumbering the gardaí in the station. ‘It was like Fort Apache: The Bronx,’ said one local TD in reference to the Paul Newman thriller where the local police station was isolated and surrounded by hostile locals.

Gardaí were not that surprised because the water protesters had been threatening to do it for a long time. “They were telling us: “We’re going to follow you to the station. We’re going to follow you home.” We didn’t think they would have the audacity to do it,” said one garda source.

The protesters started up one of their familiar most popular chants: ‘From the river to the sea, Irish Water will be free’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame on you’. The road outside the station was completely blocked due to the number of protesters. Lots of them were holding placards saying, ‘No Water Meters here’.

Lines of gardaí stood shoulder-to-shoulder at each of the two entrances to Coolock Garda Station to keep the protesters out. The protesters were shouting and chanting in the darkness. The only illumination came from the main light mounted on top of Coolock Garda Station.

A senior garda tried to negotiate with the protesters. He asked them to organise a slow march away from Coolock Garda Station. He was popular with rank-and-file gardaí and was doing his best to get on with the protesters. Then he got blindsided by somebody and belted on the jaw. The inspector went up to the protesters. “I’ve been assaulted,” he said. He pointed his finger at someone. “That man will be arrested.” Some of the protestors told him he was wrong. “No one assaulted ye,” said one. But the swelling on the side of his jaw was already visible.

Rather than retreating to the station, the senior garda just took the belt on the jaw and carried on. He and a line of gardaí stood outside the entrance to the Coolock Garda Station compound. One of the gardaí repeatedly called out the name of one of the water protestors and told him to “go away”.

After the assault, gardaí responded by using pepper spray against protestors – certain video footage posted by protesters themselves shows one of them calling gardaí, “f**king scumbags”, with gardaí holding up their pepper spray canisters again. One prominent protester was there videoing the events. “Spray me, I’m on camera doing nothing,” he said to a female garda. “I don’t give a sh*t,” said the protester.

he Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission found that the use of pepper spray was ‘justified’, according to gardaí.

One protester, who was a member of the Republican socialist party Éirígí, said there was a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ at the protest outside Coolock Garda Station. “A couple of people were pepper sprayed. That was pretty much it. It wasn’t that exciting,” he said. “It was the fact that 400 citizens said we’re not taking that sort of abuse and stood outside the garda barracks demanding to know “why the violence”?”

Gardaí who had finished their shifts were unable to leave the station because it was completely surrounded by protestors. They had to wait in the station watching television. Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street was a station favourite. Some of them were frustrated because they were late collecting children or were supposed to be home to let their wives go on shift work.

A group of youths started throwing stones. Some private cars belonging to gardaí in the station yard were damaged. One protester said the youths throwing the stones had come down to the station on bikes. “A couple of the women knew them and took them away,” he said.

The protest ended at around 11pm”.

The above is an edited extract from ‘In Deep Water – How people, politics and protests sank Irish Water’ by Michael Brennan, published by Mercier Press

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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