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Labour Party Conference Descends Into Chaos

In recent times politicians haven’t been topping any popularity polls, so it was no surprise that on Saturday, at the Labour Party Conference in NUI Galway that violent clashes broke out between anti-austerity protestors and Gardaí.

In the afternoon, vicious scenes of fighting were witnessed, as protestors attacked security men with flags, utilised a mock coffin as a weapon with which they breached the Garda cordon surrounding the conference and proceeded to the doors of the hall where the conference was taking place. A mere 20 Gardaí became the shielding force, acting as the sole barrier between the protestors and the conference delegates, the not so popular Labour politicians.

Resulting from these ferocious scenes was the decision to lock down the conference centre for a period of time. This however did not deter the efforts of the protestors, with one RTE camera man even succumbing to a ‘pepper spray’ ordeal at the hands of the frustrated protestors. Journalists who had attended the event to cover the protest were also threatened, and one student was finally arrested by Gardaí after reaching the windows of the conference centre.

People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, who was one of the politicians leading the demonstration, said that what was initially a peacefully demonstration had been hijacked by a plethora of other protest groups, namely the Occupy Dame Street movement, Citizens versus Charges, Shell to Sea, lone parents, anti-bin tax campaigners, DEIS schools defenders.

As bag pipes and bodhrans sounded in the background, taunts aimed at Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, echoed around the NUI Galway campus, whilst placards read ‘Don’t Register Don’t Pay’, ‘Axe the Home Tax’ and ‘Thug Hogan’ were evident to all.  

Undoubtedly this was an obvious to Phil Hogan’s reiteration on Friday night that the Government were not backing down regarding the collection of the Household Charge of €100, and would enlist the help of local authorities to pursue all those who have not paid.

To date 900,000 people have registered for the household charge. Notifications will be sent to those who have yet to pay in a similar method by which people are notified of their obligation to pay the TV licence. Phil Hogan also pointed out that “People know in these financial circumstances they must make a financial contribution for local services, and notwithstanding the fact that people are under pressure, over 900,000 people in this country have prepared to comply with the law – unlike the people outside,” referring to protestors outside a conference he delivered in Kilkenny on Friday.

So dare I say it – Are violent protests truly the correct medium to have your voice heard? Or are they just an excuse for thuggish behaviour? Does there not exist a better means through which our voice can be heard? Should these groups to meet not be given the opportunity to meet with specific political parties in an ordered manner for a healthy discussion and one which does not end in violence?

It may be the age old adage, but violence does not solve anything. Outlandish yobbish behaviour of protestors merely paints the nation in a bad light, and we could really do with not tarnishing our name any further. If we want issues addressed by government ministers we must meet with them in a different environment. Also, we must note that it is possibly the worst time to be in government, and must commend the efforts of those currently in ministerial roles, as they have quite simply landed a job that requires them to clean up a mess caused by others.

We as a nation must accept our part too in the financial recovery. Whilst we may look unfavourably at some austerity measures, and the requirement to pay the household charge, we must focus on the ways by which we will recover as a nation, and return to some form of prosperity as a country – a country we can be proud of and one we aren’t so ashamed to call home – even if that does mean adhering to the Government’s request and paying the household charge!

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