Pre-occupied with Post-Occupy: Protesting in Ireland

Occupy Dame street removal. Image courtesy of Drowskaerf, click for link.

Last Thursday (March 8, 2012) Occupy Dame Street, Dublin, was removed at 3.30 a.m. by the Guarda Síochána in an operation involving more than 100 people so that the plaza that they had occupied outside the central bank could be cleared for St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The de-occupation mimicked the late-night move made by police on Wall Street last November, but was met with far less public outcry despite the overkill of 100+ police removing approximately 15 protestors.

I am far from the most avid Occupy supporter, although I do regularly speak out in defence of the movement. But one of the things that shocked me most was the immediate online response to the end of Ireland’s central Occupy movement., a fairly liberal outputter of general national trivia and other silliness, was inundated with negative comments after their announcement of the end of Occupy Dame Street. The (assumed predominantly young) online audience were vocally critical of the Occupy movement in Dublin. The youth are the expected proponents of social change, especially when they have been (arguably) hardest hit by the economic downturn

Although I do not doubt that there is an online presence of politically motivated commenters on blogs etc., I did not believe that this backlash could have been orchestrated so acutely by the flaccid governmental bodies that called for the de-occupation with the dubious motive of retaining the country’s international image on our day of national heavy drinking. The Fine Gael government in power failed to prevent two teenagers from hacking their website this year, and the Twittergate scandal of the recent presidential election highlighted the limited knowledge of online media in Irish political debate. Although setting up fake accounts to comment on political stories is significantly easier than taking down an entire website, it does make me skeptical that the current government could navigate online media precisely enough to make this emphatic an assault on a popular news site. So I began to debate with my peers in the offline world to see why the youth of the nation appeared to detest Occupy Dame Street so vehemently.

Occupy Dame Street in November 2011

In conversations over the last few days I’ve noticed that the attitude toward Occupy Dame Street online was similar to that offline, if less outspokenly critical. The main concern was that the Dublin movement was not connected with the problems being faced by Irish people at present. It did not directly approach current issues, but stood as a symbol against them. I visited the former site of ODS last weekend, and saw a continued protest amid heavy Guarda presence, but the movement continued to resonate an anti-establishment stance rather than a view toward positive social change.

Principally, Occupy Dame Street was not Occupy Wall Street – the latter embraced positivity in social reform by encouraging interaction in a less money-driven community. The Dame Street equivalent was seen as having a negative, anti-establishment stance that is perhaps counter-productive to the overall idea of protesting against late capitalism. There is a resonating opposition in Irish youth to grand nationalistic movement – we can still (just about) remember the troubles in Northern Ireland, and ODS’s negativity certainly had a whiff of the militaristic, even if that went against their mantra.

Graph courtesy of, click for link.

Another major failing of Occupy Dame Street could be attributed to its Dublin location. Since the economic crash in 2008, Dublin has been heavily marred by empty properties, falling property values and a marked increase in unemployment. However, the rest of the country suffered a near tripling of unemployment between 2006 and 2009, compared to Dublin’s increase of just over double, and the non-urban regions of the country have also suffered from the lack of infrastructure put in place due to delayed development during the boom years. Protest movements have been taking place outside of the capital, as documented recently by the Irish Times, but they are on a more localised community level.

The amount of intelligent debate both online and offline about this subject has since matched the blunt negative comments like “serves the smelly hippies right”, etc. Many have begun to respond to ODS’s collapse as a positive move. People who previously felt that they need to protest but were nervous about being bulked with a negative movement have begun to put new ideas in place, in the form of art and music events, social gatherings and just general debate and discussion.

Occupy Dame Street in November 2011

On Wall Street and in the highly successful Spanish Occupy movements the message was always directed at positivity. Although these movements are also faltering, they have garnered far more popular support than the Irish equivalent. These foreign movements exhibited far less of the social ambiguity, secrecy and coterie nature that Occupy Dame Street seemed to harbour.

On the whole, Occupy Dame Street’s major downfall seemed to be that it did not appear to represent the 99%. It only appeared to represent its own 1% (as a friend cleverly said to me – now we can form our 98% movement and carry on). The Irish protest movement exists, and takes on a variety of forms, but perhaps Occupy is not necessarily built for the Irish model.

Whether the Irish protest in its current post-occupy format it will be impacting remains to be seen. Risking the communist reference, perhaps this movement is more Menshevik than Bolshevik. It might not be a bad thing, but it does make it a less instantly recognisable one.

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