November 24, 2010 / 12:15 PM / 7 years ago

Union chief says Irish civil unrest unlikely

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish protests over government austerity plans are unlikely to erupt into violence but there will be peaceful demonstrations to register discontent, the head of the country’s trade unions said on Wednesday.

Ireland’s teetering government will announce plans on Wednesday afternoon to cut welfare spending sharply and raise taxes to help pay for the country’s catastrophic banking crisis and meet the terms of an international bailout.

Trade unions, student groups and pensioners along with others are planning a major protest in Dublin on Saturday November 27, with up to tens of thousands expected.

“There is no suggestion that they don’t want to go out onto the street, what they don’t necessarily want to do is wreck buildings and burn cars,” said David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is organizing the Saturday protest.

Despite facing some of Europe’s deepest cuts to welfare and services, Ireland has largely been spared the civil unrest and protests that have hit other parts of Europe where governments implemented tough budgetary measures to cope with the economic downturn.

Begg said there was nationwide concern at the cuts.

“It’s not the case that people think the whole thing is inevitable, it’s simply that they’re much more law abiding people who don’t want a revolution,” he told Reuters Insider television, adding:

“They just simply want to bring to the attention of the government that look, you have to be concerned with the citizens of the country, as well as the bond markets,” Begg said.

ORDERLY PROTESTS

Ireland will hear the details of the four-year plan for making 15 billion euros in savings on Wednesday.

Begg sought to calm fears that Dublin’s streets at the weekend would witness the kind of violence seen in Greece and other nations after some Irish unions had said the austerity plan could spark civil unrest.

“It will be done in a very orderly way, in a family-friendly type of protest ... there is a difference between that and the desire to have social unrest.”

But the prospect of four more years of pain prompted thousands of students to protest earlier this month. Scuffles broke out and bottles and eggs were thrown at police when officers removed a group of people trying to occupy a lobby in the Department of Finance.

Socialist party Sinn Fein organized a small demonstration outside parliament on Monday, with scuffles after a small group succeeded in pushed through the gates of the government buildings.

The ICTU is calling on cuts in the 4-year plan to be made over a 7-year period.

Additional reporting by Darcy Lambton, editing by Peter Millership

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