28 February 2012

#OccupyDameStreet - Don't rain on my parade

Protest in Operation, business as usual at the gates of the Central Bank
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Tuesday 28th February
With all the working and toing and the froing and such, these last few weeks have seen precious little of me down on Occupied Dame Street. I spent a few hours there on Saturday on the information stand with a visiting member of #OccupyGalway who has been travelling from camp to camp solidifying the bonds between groups, and from what I can see Eyre Square is definitely the heart of the Irish #Occupy Movement at the moment in terms of activity and outreach.

Life on Dame Street continues, but since the very successful lock-in outside the Department of Finance in opposition to the €1.25 Billion payment to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders back in January, the focus for ODS has been largely inward, reorganising itself after the long winter hibernation and trying to restart many of the structures that energised it in its early days. Today did see a solidarity protest outside the British Embassy opposing last night's eviction of #OccupyLSX from the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, but by-and-large the attention of the Camp has been focused squarely on internal housekeeping matters of late.

Complicating things further was the visit of the Fire Marshall and the subsequent activity that this necessitated. The Fire Marshall inspected the site a few weeks ago and raised some concerns over the arrangement of the wooden shacks that have served as the winter accommodation for the Occupiers, and asked that they be spaced out with a greater distance between each shack to act as a fire break. Much of the weekend was spent complying with his request, so now the Camp looks substantially bigger than it has done for many weeks.

The negotiation table is on standby
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Tuesday 28th February
This, however, will no doubt cause some friction with some of the local shopkeepers who believe that without a clear line-of-sight for pedestrians on Dame Street to their shops at the side of the Central Bank, they lose a significant amount of footfall. The Camp had attempted to facilitate this line-of-sight by making their accommodation area as compact as possible, but in order to comply with the Fire Marshall's request and reduce the risk of the Camp being shut down a major rethink is necessary, and the outcome may not be to everyone's liking.

The increased size of the Camp will also necessitate some careful planning for the upcoming Paddy's Day festivities. While the Camp survived both Halloween and New Year's Eve without major incident, the Parade is due to pass right past the Camp on its way through College Green and on up to St. Patrick's Cathedral. The plaza in front of the Central Bank has traditionally been used for both a VIP seating area and a media viewing platform, and with seats being sold for €60 a pop no doubt the organisers would prefer that the smelly lefty hippies be both downwind and out of sight. The gardai have already begun a conversation with the Camp on this issue, but at this stage no decisions have been made by any of those involved.

If ever there was an issue that will bring the Camp into conflict with the authorities, its this. As the lady said, nobody (no, nobody) is going to rain on their parade.

Update 29/02/2012

Well the St Patrick's Day discussion with the gardai has made the front page of The Irish Times, quoting from a letter hand-delivered by the gardai to the Camp yesterday at 1:30pm:
In a letter delivered to the Dame Street camp yesterday afternoon, Garda Supt Joseph Gannon asked for “assistance and co-operation in removing” the camp.

This was “in order to facilitate the holding of the St Patrick’s Day parade and to ensure that it passes off without risk of injury or harm to members of the community and visitors, and to the satisfaction of all concerned"
I had a read through the letter yesterday at the Camp and it was very nicely worded, framing everything as a request in the spirit of cooperation. It is important to stress that this is neither an eviction notice, nor does it appear to ask that the Camp be shuttered permanently, the implication being that after St Patrick's Day the Camp could be reestablished. Of course the timing of this on the morning after the #OccupyLSX eviction at St Paul's is highly suspicious, and the fear would be that if the Camp fully complies with the request further follow-up measures will be enacted to prevent its return. That said #OccupyGalway successfully moved their Camp from one end of Eyre Square to another to allow a Christmas Market to go ahead in its usual spot, and they appear to be stronger than ever now.

There is a meeting planned for later this evening to discuss what the response should be, it should be an interesting conversation.

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