Irish marchers protest nationwide against austerity

DUBLIN Sat Feb 9, 2013 6:11pm EST

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people marched in six cities around Ireland on Saturday to protest against austerity measures, days after the government struck a vital deal on its bank debt.

Prominent trade unionists and opposition members of parliament marched alongside citizens facing a sixth year of cuts since a financial crisis plunged Ireland's banking system into a debt spiral.

The size of the protest was reminiscent of the early days of Ireland's financial crisis; in recent years demonstrations have waned despite ever-rising taxes and spending cuts.

A deal with the European Central Bank allowing Ireland to stretch out the cost of bailing out Anglo Irish Bank did not dampen the turnout for the protests, organized weeks in advance by an umbrella group for Irish trade unions.

For protesters struggling with cuts in living standards, mortgage arrears or unemployment, the deal is scant consolation.

"I've no confidence at all in the deal, it won't make any difference to ordinary people," said Alfie Murray, marching in Dublin with his 8-year-old grandson.

"It's the next generation that'll shoulder the cost," he said.

Police said around 50,000 took part in the demonstrations under the banner "Lift the Burden" in Dublin and other cities, although the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), which represents nearly a fifth of Ireland's 3.1 million electorate, put the figure at over 110,000.

The largest protest took place in the capital, where police said up to 25,000 people took part - a large demonstration by Irish standards.

Marches organized in Cork and Sligo had an estimated turnout of 6,000, according to police, while protests in Limerick, Galway and Waterford attracted crowds of about 2,000.

Ireland's bank debt deal, announced last week, saw the cost of bailing out Anglo Irish stretched out over 40 years rather than 10, cutting Ireland's borrowing needs by 20 billion euros over the next decade.

"The jury is out on this deal," SIPTU trade union president Jack O'Connor told Reuters.

"We anticipated a lower turnout because of it, but went ahead as planned because people clearly want to know what these agreements actually mean for them day-to-day," he said.

David Begg, the general secretary of the ICTU addressing the crowd in Dublin, said it was hugely unfair that Irish people had paid 42 percent of the European banking debt burden, drawing widespread applause from protesters.

"It would be fatal for people to believe this issue is now resolved and we can all move on," he said.

In the crowd, a large number of public sector workers, frustrated by cuts in their basic pay and additional workplace demands, expressed anger at government plans to make further cuts in the sector.

"They want us to pay all their bills and we're getting tired of it now," said Patrick Healey, 57, a teacher who has seen his wages cut by 700 euros per month, or about 20 percent, in the last five years.

(Reporting by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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